Sen: Brown (D) Talks to Media the Morning After
After staying up until 4:30 am blogging I rolled out of bed and hustled downtown to the Crowne Plaza Hotel this morning for a "press availability" with senator-elect Sherrod Brown (D-Avon). He appeared in a denim shirt looking a little tired but very relaxed, stepping behind a podium before a phalanx of reporters, photographers and TV cameramen. He said he had no prepared statement and invited questions.
Brown called this a very important election and said that the fact that he won in double-digits is a testament to the strength of the issues he raised in his campaign (including education, job-killing trade agreements, alternative energy, stem cell research, and economic issues affecting the middle class).
I asked if he thought his unique campaign strategy (embracing progressivism but defining it in terms of positions on key issues in contrast to his opponent) was a template that other candidates could use, or if instead his victory was tied to conditions specific to Ohio like corruption and a stagnant economy. He said he thought other progressive candidates could run on the kind of issues he stressed, giving examples of some who had done so in this cycle. He also rejected the notion that his win is a reaction to George Bush, saying that factor alone would only create a 3 or 4 point margin. He explained his campaign strategy as "talking to people directly" about common concerns whether they live in liberal or conservative parts of Ohio, mentioning raising the minimum wage and fixing No Child Left Behind among other issues as addressing mainstream concerns of the middle class.
Asked whether there was a turning point in this campaign, he identified two. First, he said, was when he and spouse Connie Schultz decided that he would run on progressive values and not try to be someone he isn't, and second when Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Cedarville) ran the ad in July that featured a doctored image of the World Trade Center. He said the ad was both offensive for politicizing 9/11 and a turn-off due to the undisclosed alteration of the image.
Brown said that he woke up this morning feeling the weight of the responsibility of representing the entire state, and a big and important state at that. Asked about how the Democrats should exercise their new power in Congress, he emphasized reaching across the aisle and moving forward on bipartisan issues that enough Republicans will want to support. Examples of those are extending tuition tax credits, increasing Pell grants, stem cell research, and raising the minimum wage. Later he added implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations as another. He stressed that the new Congress is not going to be about "going after" Dick Cheney and George Bush.
As to committee assignments, Brown said he had talked to Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) about the Finance Committee, which deals with Medicare and social security. Asked about being "on the inside" as a result of the Democrats' big victory, Brown pledged to be just as outspoken as in the past. "I believe that you run as you serve," he said. "When I see something going wrong I will speak out about it."
On his immediate personal plans, Brown mentioned that tomorrow is his birthday, and a reporter identified it as his 54th. "Thanks for pointing that out," he said drily. His plans are constrained by the fact that Schultz' book "And His Lovely Wife," on which she has been working during the campaign, is due in about a month. Asked if his election victory provides a happy ending that will increase the book's sales, Brown joked that it would provide one for their marriage.
Asked what was the best advice he has received about being a Senator, Brown mentioned talking to Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the latter being a friend and representing a state of similar size. The best advice is to go slowly and take time to learn how the Senate works, he said. He denied having any interest in being part of a presidential ticket, saying that this is the highest office he seeks and that he hopes to serve more than one term. He said that the outcome of the election could be "leveraged to Ohio's advantage" by him cooperating with governor-elect Ted Strickland (D-Lisbon) on efforts like developing Ohio as the Silicon Valley of alternative energy. He also stressed the importance of electing Jennifer Brunner (D-Columbus) as Secretary of State to oversee Ohio elections.
I pointed out that the Democrats managed a clean sweep last night of offices formerly held by him and asked for his comment on the public servants following in his wake. He praised state representative-elect Jay Goyal (D-Mansfield) as a "terrific" person, an Asian-American who returned to Ohio from Northwestern University to take over his father's business. He pointed out that he knows Jennifer Brunner from her serving as a deputy while Brown was Secretary of State, and said that she is way more qualified than he when elected to that post. Finally, he said he was thrilled with the election of Betty Sutton to Congress, where she will be an outspoken advocate for workers and the middle class, "with the right sentiments."
Brown said that Sen. George Voinovich (R) had called him today. "I can work with George Voinovich on national debt issues," he said, noting that he has known Voinovich for years. Brown also described a congratulatory telephone call from DeWine, which was relatively short but showed "class." Brown told DeWine that he appreciated the call, and mentioned having had to make a similarly difficult call to Bob Taft in 1990. DeWine offered to help Brown with the transition.
Asked to compare himself to former Ohio Democratic senators John Glenn and Howard Metzenbaum, Brown declined but praised the two men. Glenn, he said, spoke at Brown's eagle scout dinner. He appreciates Metzenbaum for "standing up for the little guy."
Brown said he hadn't decided exactly what offices he would have in Ohio, but mentioned Lorain and Cleveland as definite locations and Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo as other possibilities. He also said that as senator he would do "very good personal case work," regarding that as a highly important aspect of the job.