Pelosi Challenger Brings ‘Industrial Midwest’ Perspective

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By Tyrone Richardson

Nov. 22 — Tim Ryan, a congressman from Ohio, seeks to sharpen the Democratic Party’s focus on working families as a means to reclaim voter support.

Fresh off winning an eighth term as the representative for Ohio’s 13th District, Ryan is seeking to unseat Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as the House Democratic leader.

“He would be a new face and a very eclectic spokesman for the Rust Belt and for the working people in the Midwest,” Harriet Applegate, executive secretary of the Northeast Ohio branch of the AFL-CIO, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 21. Ryan's district is a largely industrial region from Youngstown to Akron.

His long-shot bid seeks a new direction to stop the Democrats’ shrinking footprint in Congress.

“Under our current leadership, Democrats have been reduced to our smallest congressional minority since 1929,” Ryan said in a Nov. 17 letter announcing his candidacy for the leadership post. “This should indicate to all of us that keeping our leadership team completely unchanged will simply lead to more disappointment in future elections.”

This election year showed a large shift of support from Democrats, especially in industrial states that leaned Democratic in 2012. President Barack Obama won Ohio in his re-election bid that year.

This year, Donald Trump defeated opponent Hillary Clinton by more than 450,000 votes in Ohio. Also, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) won his re-election bid by about 1.1 million votes, somewhat of a surprise in what observers initially predicted to be a close race. Ryan was one of the bright spots for the Democratic Party, winning his House re-election bid by 106,000 votes.

Incumbent's Leadership Spans 14 Years

Pelosi spokeswoman Caroline Behringer declined to respond to Ryan’s bid for party leadership. She referred Bloomberg BNA to comments Pelosi made during a Nov. 17 news conference.

Pelosi, 76, who has led Democrats in the House for 14 years, said two-thirds of her caucus is backing her bid for another term. She also highlighted a track record of shifting House leadership under a Republican presidential administration.

“In 2005 and 2006, I orchestrated the take back of the House of Representatives. I’m very, very proud of that. And, as I said, we see that as an opportunity now,” she said then.

Ryan Endorsed by Rice, Perlmutter

Many House Democrats have been mum on whether they'll support Ryan when they vote on party leadership Nov. 30. So far, Ryan has garnered endorsements from Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) and Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.). The two describe Ryan as a lawmaker who understands the needs of Americans from various backgrounds.

“Coming from the Great Lakes region and from a manufacturing town, Congressman Tim Ryan fits the bill for a new messenger for the Democratic caucus in Congress,” Perlmutter, a sixth term House member, said in a written statement to Bloomberg BNA Nov. 22. “He’s going to bring new ideas and new energy for all Americans, especially those finding it difficult to get ahead or stay ahead.”

Rice, a freshman House member, made a similar comment in a Nov. 20 written statement. Ryan can stand against Trump and show that “Democrats are the real champions of the working class and the ones who truly respect working people,” she said.

Reeling In Working Class Families

Ryan especially wants to show that Democrats are “for all working people,” including “union workers,” bringing them back to the party after shifting support to President-elect Trump, Ryan’s spokesman Michael Zetts told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 21.

David Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Akron, agreed. Ryan is from the “heart of the industrial Midwest” and offers a “different perspective than Pelosi,” Cohen told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 21.

“Pelosi is from San Francisco and is seen as a West Coast liberal. Ryan brings a different perspective to the table,” he said. “Ryan can speak to all types of different groups, and he can relate to the community of steelworkers in Northeast Ohio and also really speaks the language to liberal progressive Democrats.”

Union Support Shifts

That includes some union households that shifted away from the party in the last election, Cohen added.

“I think one of the major concerns for the Democratic Party is will they be able to speak the language of these workers in the manufacturing sector that left the party and voted for Trump this year,” he said. “If you look at exit polls in Ohio, he won for union households. It was the first time in decades that they have lost union households.”

Ryan, 43, has a track record of advocating for blue-collar workers. That includes co-founding the Congressional Manufacturing Caucus in 2003, which is tasked with promoting policies that help broaden the nation’s manufacturing workforce.

Ryan has also joined many House Democrats that have criticized the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership as a trade deal that would cause manufacturing job losses and fuel currency manipulation that diminishes the competitive position of domestic businesses. Trump announced Nov. 21 that he will abandon the proposed TPP during his first days in office.

Ryan represents a region of Ohio that is home to union-represented jobs at steel mills and the General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio. Officials at the United Autoworkers and United Steelworkers either declined to comment or did not respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment Nov. 22.

Ryan’s Candidacy ‘Sends Message’ to Heartland

Ryan’s candidacy is “symbolic” of the Democratic Party’s return to working family issues, the AFL-CIO’s Applegate said.

“It’s a symbolic candidacy and sends a message that the Democratic Party is looking at the heartland and cognizant of the importance and heeding the signs coming out of the middle of the country,” she said.

The area, which includes a large concentration of union-represented jobs, shifted support to Trump during the recent election cycle. That is an indication that the party’s message has been lost with some voters, David Betras, the Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 21.

“What workers want to hear is that we respect them and there is a dignity in their work and dignity that does not require you to be sitting at a computer, but all workers matter,” he said. “We have to show that not just college educated workers matter.”

Betras added that Ryan will show that the party cares about blue-collar workers and their concerns. “We need to get back on message,” he said.

“When you are living paycheck to paycheck and we are not speaking to those people, they will drink the water of Donald Trump,” Betras said. “When people are thirsty they will drink water even with dirt in it.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tyrone Richardson in Washington at trichardson@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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