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Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan Might Run for President in 2020

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Ryan’s personal and political versatility translates to his view of the Democratic Party. Contra the ongoing debate over which voters represent Democrats’ future—should they still try to win back the white working class, or embrace their emerging coalition of young, diverse voters?—Ryan doesn’t see why the party needs to choose. He says he wants to push progressive policies, but believes that an argument centered on the economy is the best way to do it: If Democrats can convince voters that a particular measure is going to make them financially better off, they’ll win over Americans of all stripes, from the San Fernando Valley to the Mahoning Valley—and emerge victorious in 2020.

“We need a national coalition of people who say it’s ‘both and,’ not ‘either/or,’” Ryan told me in an interview after yoga class. “We don’t have to pick.” And as for his role in that union, Ryan tells me, “In some ways, I am a bridge.”

A campaign like his could help test whether this middle-of-the-road approach can actually work—and help end the Democrats’ arguing once and for all.

Ryan tends to pop up whenever there is a broader conversation about the direction of the Democratic Party, a circumstance that is, at least in part, of his own design. He’s perhaps best known for his two failed attempts to overthrow Nancy Pelosi as the leader of the House Democrats. He challenged Pelosi after the 2016 election on the premise that the party was neglecting middle America and over concerns that the California Democrat symbolized the party’s elite, urban flank. “If you take state and federal officials, Democratic officials, we have the smallest number since Reconstruction,” he said in an interview that year on Morning Joe. “If that’s not a call for doing something differently, I don’t know what is.” Two years later, he tried again, but ultimately backed Pelosi.

Since his first congressional election in 2002, Ryan has also repeatedly, and publicly, deliberated about running for higher office, which is useful context for his comments about a White House run. After all, he’d be a long shot for securing the Democratic nomination, given his relatively low name recognition compared with other, better-known candidates, and his lack of a campaign thus far. A presidential bid or flirtation—and the accompanying media coverage—could help Ryan lay the groundwork for an eventual go at the Senate, or it could simply help boost his national profile.

Ryan maintains, however, that a 2020 campaign would not be a vanity project, but rather a genuine effort to advocate for his vision for the party. Though he’s been light on specifics, he already has plans to visit Iowa and New Hampshire in the coming weeks.

Ryan is injecting himself into presidential politics at a time when his party faces two distinct paths to the White House, as my colleague Ronald Brownstein recently explained: Democrats can set their sights on nominating a candidate who can energize voters in the Midwest, and win back the people the party lost to Donald Trump in Rust Belt states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ohio. Or they can push for a nominee who can mobilize the growing number of young and nonwhite Americans living in the Sun Belt, in states such as Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina.

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