Tim Ryan believes he can speak to a specific set of voters who, if recaptured, would be immensely helpful to Democrats in 2020: the Obama-Trump voters.
And there are plenty of those in Iowa.
Ryan, a congressman from Ohio, recently made official his campaign for president. He visited Iowa this week, making a handful of stops in Des Moines and the central part of the state.
After speaking to Democratic state lawmakers at the Iowa Capitol, Ryan told reporters he feels he can speak to the voters who Democrats lost in 2016.
Specifically, Ryan asserted he can win back people who voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but swung to Republican Donald Trump in 2016.
There were 206 Obama-Trump counties. Iowa had the most of any state: 31, most of them in the state’s eastern third. That shift helped Iowa swing from a six-point margin of victory for Obama in 2012 to a 10-point victory for Trump in 2016.
Ryan said his experience in Congress representing a blue-collar district that includes cities like Youngstown and Akron informs how he would appeal to Obama-Trump voters.
Trump lost Ohio’s 13th District, which Ryan represents, in 2016, although it does contain three Obama-Trump counties.
“Trump did well in my district. I did well in my district. I believe I can communicate to a lot of people who voted for Donald Trump that I have a plan that will actually get us home,” Ryan said. “I think communicating with people in Youngstown, Ohio, is not much different than Davenport or Dubuque or Des Moines or Sioux City. These are working-class towns, working-class people.
“They want to trust you and they want to know you have a plan. And that’s the campaign.”
Ryan called it a “false choice” when asked whether Democrats, in their hopes of retaking the White House next year, should focus on and expand their base or try to regain the support of voters who defected to Trump in 2016.
“I think it would be helpful for us to say why did they vote for Trump. They voted for Obama twice. So I think it’s intellectually lazy to say everyone’s a racist,” Ryan said. “There are people who are hurting and hurting economically.”
Ryan said he will be able to connect with those voters and in doing so retake the Midwest states that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016, ultimately costing Democrats the election.
“I will win Pennsylvania. I will win Ohio. I will win Michigan. I will win Wisconsin,” Ryan said. “I can win these states. They’re economically (and) culturally similar to the district I represent. And I can win them and then we can take back the White House.”
Ryan said the issues facing Obama-Trump voters, people in his Ohio district and rural Iowans are the same. He noted in particular the loss of manufacturing jobs, declining farm incomes, methamphetamine and opioid addiction, and rural hospital issues.
“Those are American citizens who are doing everything right and can’t catch a break and they need to be voting for Democrats. And we need to give them a reason to vote for us. So I’m going to give them a reason. I’m going to go there. I’m going to campaign there. And I hope they will at least give me a good listen,” Ryan said.
“Trump pretty much ran as an independent and so they gave him a chance. Trump has not delivered for them, so now’s the time for Democrats to go back in there and have a broad coalition.”
Most of the early polling on the expansive field of Democratic presidential candidates --- 18 strong and counting as of this weekend --- has consistently, both in Iowa and nationally, shown Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders as the clear front-runners.
But just to offer a history lesson, and for fun, let’s consider what the polls on the expansive field of Republican presidential candidates looked like at this same point four years ago: Scott Walker was the lead candidate in Real Clear Politics’ polling average, followed by Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee as the only candidates averaging in double digits.
None of those candidates finished in the top three 10 months later in the Iowa caucuses.
Trump, who finished second in Iowa and eventually secured the party’s nomination, didn’t start surging in the polls until July. Eventual Iowa caucus winner Ted Cruz started picking up polling steam even later.
Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.