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How Tim Ryan Could Win The 2020 Democratic Nomination

Tim Ryan was not the guy from Ohio we thought would be running for president. The odds on favorite was Sen. Sherrod Brown, until he announced a few weeks back that he’d sit 2020 out. But on Thursday, Ryan said he’s getting in the race.

From ABC News:


You might know Ryan — who represents Ohio’s 13th Congressional District — best from his 2016 bid to unseat Nancy Pelosi as House Democrats’ leader. Ryan lost (handily) but made a point in the process, putting himself on the map as a younger Democrat upset with the direction of the party. “When we don’t talk about economics, we lose elections,” Ryan said at the time. Implicit to his point was that Democrats needed a more moderate image in order to win future presidential elections.

But who is Ryan outside of being a Pelosi skeptic? His district encompasses parts of the Mahoning Valley, including Youngstown, a city sought out by political journalists for its blue-collar bona fides and Trump affection (though, the president ultimately lost there). Ryan worked for Rep. Jim Traficant, an infamous congressman with infamous hair. In 2002, Traficant and his toupee were expelled from the House after he was convicted on 10 felony counts of bribery, racketeering and fraud. Ryan, who had been serving in the Ohio state Senate, ran for the seat and won.

Ryan serves on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, co-chairs the manufacturing caucus and has voted with Trump 19.6 percent of the time, which is quite a bit less than you might expect given Ryan’s district. Ryan-sponsored legislation tends to cover issues like education, veterans affairs, and manufacturing.

He has passed on chances to run for Senate and governor in Ohio over the past few years — but his presidential ambitions have been hinted at for some time. He’s made trips to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in recent years — all important early primary states — further fueling speculation.

So what’s Ryan’s case for winning the primary?

In some ways, Ryan’s appeal is quite similar to Brown’s or Joe Biden’s — he wants to play to working class voters in places like Ohio and the Upper Midwest who were turned off by the Democrats in the 2016 election. Stylistically, Ryan has a lot in common with freshman Democrats like Rep. Abigail Spanberger and Rep. Conor Lamb, who won swing districts in part because of their public critiques of Democratic leadership. He also appears on Fox News shows from time to time, something that not every Democratic congressperson would do these days.

But Ryan purportedly also wants to go after the “yoga vote,” according to one report. He wrote a book in 2012 called “A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit,” which includes chapters on “how mindfulness can improve performance and build resiliency for our military and first responders” and “how mindfulness can help us rediscover our values and reshape our economy.” Ryan’s intention seems to be to apply the mindfulness mindset so often associated with wealthy yuppie types to the issues and concerns of working class Americans.

In 2018 FiveThirtyEight staffers discussed what exactly the “yoga vote” might actually look like electorally and concluded it’d rely on suburban white women riled up over Trump. Ryan might see a path to victory by appealing both to working class voters and those women who fueled the Democrats’ 2018 midterm victories in House seats. More than ever, Democrats say they simply want a candidate who can beat Trump, not someone whose ideas necessarily line up with their own; Ryan could be catnip for that kind of voter. He won’t be alone in appealing to that coalition; Kirsten Gillibrand is another Democrat who’s hoping to blend working class and woman voter appeal.

His biggest challenges will be gaining name recognition and funds in a crowded Democratic field. It could certainly happen, though. Little-known South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg raked in $600,000 after a recent CNN town hall appearance. At the very least, Ryan’s presidential run will be good for boosting his status back home in Ohio. As the poets say: “Shoot for the presidency and even if you miss, you may land in a governor or U.S. Senate race.”

Clare Malone is a senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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