Tim Ryan rallied voters in his hometown over the weekend, garnering support for his 2020 Democratic presidential campaign. The nine-term Congressman spoke before an enthusiastic crowd in downtown Youngstown on West Federal Street, which was closed off for the event.
Ryan hit the stage by proclaiming, “I’m Tim Ryan, and I’m running for President of the United States of America!”
Ryan said he hopes to emulate President John F. Kennedy, the namesake of the Catholic high school in Warren from which Ryan graduated, who had a clear vision for America.
“It’s about bringing the country together. You don’t get to the moon, divided," Ryan said. "The challenges we have today – there’s not one Sputnik moment – we need about seven Sputnik moments.”
In his speech, Ryan discussed both the nation’s challenges and the ones specific to the Mahoning Valley, such as Black Monday – when a large portion of Youngstown Sheet and Tubing closed – and the idling of the General Motors plant in Lordstown.
“Things go up and things go down. But if we’re not united, we are not going to be able to fix these structural problems that we have in the United States,” Ryan said.
Many in the crowd held up red, white and blue “Our Future Is Now” signs, or wore shirts given out by the campaign. The mayors of Youngstown, Warren and Akron introduced Ryan, who spoke for close to a half hour on how he feels politicians are polarizing America.
“They want to put us in one box or the other,” Ryan said. “You know, you can’t be for business and for labor. You can’t be for border security and immigration reform, right? You can’t be for cities and rural America. You can’t be for the North and the South. You can’t be for men and women. I’m tired of having to choose, I want us to come together as a country.”
Most in the crowd cheered, but Bruce Burk was taking a wait-and-see approach. He’s 64, a lifelong resident of the area, and was among the voters who swung the region to the right for Donald Trump in 2016.
“To be honest with you, I’m glad,” Burk said. “It’s good for this valley that a native son is now in the ring. I don’t think he stays in the ring very long. It’s too big and I don’t think he can fundraise. I don’t believe that he can last.”
More than a dozen Democrats have entered the race already, all competing for media attention and, of course, dollars. Despite coming from the Rust Belt, and having a lower national profile, Ryan could still fundraise effectively using social media according to Dave Cohen, professor of Political Science at the University of Akron.
“There’s all sorts of ways to get your name out, get your message out, and get small donors to contribute to your campaign,” Cohen says. “I think it’s way too early to even look at fundraising numbers. Fundraising numbers tell us very little at this point. If fundraising numbers meant anything, Jeb Bush would be president.”
The last president to be elected directly from the U.S. House of Representatives was James Garfield in 1880. Most since then have had experience as a governor or senator before ascending to the White House. But Cohen says that’s not necessarily the case anymore.
“In a normal time, I would say it’s extremely difficult to go from the House of Representatives to the Presidency,” Cohen says. “But we have somebody in the Presidency right now who had zero elected office experience. I’m not sure that the American public – even though they should – are really paying that much attention to the resumes of these Presidential candidates. People focus more on personality and less on how prepared they are for the job.”
Ryan has gotten more national attention in recent years, challenging Nancy Pelosi for House Democratic leader in 2016 and sparring with President Trump over economic policy and how it’s led to the idling of the Lorsdtown plant – a major blow to the Mahoning Valley. In 2017, Trump held a rally in Youngstown and told the audience that jobs would be coming back to the region.
In his speech on Saturday, Ryan said polarization has harmed the nation’s ability to compete.
“The competition that we are in today is fierce,” Ryan said. “And we don’t need a superstar, and we don’t need a savior.”
Ryan says he plans to take a different approach.
“My focus on the economy and jobs and wages and security and retirement security is one that I think is going to resonate with the American people,” he said.
Janet Hazlette is ready to vote Ryan in to the White House. She protested when Trump was here in 2017, and says reports of a permanent Mahoning County swing-to-the-right are premature.
“He [Trump] did less well than what people think,” Hazlette said. “Where we’re standing, he didn’t win here. He won in Mahoning County, and this is a Democratic area. There are very few Republicans. He’s an anomaly.”
Joan Murphy and Mary Cummins from Warren agree, and say Ryan would make an excellent president.
“He’s a very honest and earnest person and he has a lot of charisma,” Murphy says.
“He’s a mixture of Joe Biden and the Kennedys because they have a good heart; they always cared about the people,” Cummins adds. “The low-income and working-class people.”
Ryan is spending part of this week in Iowa and is also slated to hold a town hall in New Hampshire. Those are the first two states with contests in next year’s primary season. He appeared on MSNBC from the rally, and then on CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday.
If elected, Ryan would be the ninth president from Ohio.