Candidates get a boost from Sherrod Brown in recent local races

News Candidates get a boost from Sherrod Brown in recent local races

CLEVELAND, Ohio – In some of the recent local elections, it paid to be connected to Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.

After years of getting walloped in local races, Democrats made some significant gains in last week’s election. Some of those victors have Brown, easily the state’s most visible Democrat, to thank for an assist through his “Canary Candidates” program.

Of the 61 hopefuls who were selected, 34 won their seats – a success rate of around 56%.

“We’re not winning elections enough in this state,” Brown said in an interview with “We have a whole lot of young people who want to get engaged and run for office and don’t like the direction of the state or the country.”

The Canary Candidates concept isn’t novel, amounting to a recruitment program. It’s a common practice among politicians and political organizations, including the Ohio Democratic Party and its “Main Street Initiative.”

But it is a test of the prowess Brown has as the top elected Democrat in the state heading into 2020.

In the past three decades, Republicans have mostly dominated elections in Ohio. Brown is the notable exception at the statewide level, having won three times now. Approval polling consistently shows him as the most popular politician in the state.

One gripe among some Democrats, however, has been Brown’s relative disconnect from the party and campaign apparatus. He’s been supportive of candidates, but not overly active – at least publicly – in some of the recruitment.

The Canary Candidates program is Brown’s way of leveraging his popularity and political brand for candidates at the local level.

Essentially, he’s trying to build a bench.

“We just wanted to do a process where we can pick candidates who are … pro-labor and pro-choice candidates that are going to be active and aggressive,” Brown said. “Some win, some lose.”

It’s named for the canary pin Brown wears on his lapel, which Brown received from a coal miner. In the early days of coal mining, canaries were lowered into mines and, if they died, were a signal for the miners to leave immediately. Brown uses the visual as a reminder of his pro-labor union message.

The candidates — mostly school boards, city councils and mayors — were given a questionnaire and, if selected, received Brown’s endorsement and were allowed to use his image on campaign material. Brown doled out more than $27,000 through his America Works State and Local PAC to the candidates as well.

Some candidates attributed their victory at least in part to Brown’s program.

Bhuwan Pyakurel, who made history as America’s first Nepali-Bhutanese elected official when he was elected to the Reynoldsburg City Council, featured Brown prominently on his social media and campaign literature.

“It definitely helped me out quite a lot,” Pyakurel said. “When I was standing outside the election polling station, my volunteers were telling me that people were saying, ‘Oh, Sherrod Brown supports him. I have to support him.’”

Pyakurel attributed Brown’s popularity to his “dignity of work” message.

Brown decided to start his own recruitment program earlier this year after he decided he wasn’t going to run for president.

Candidates came from all over the state, including Democratic strongholds like Cuyahoga and Franklin counties as well as traditionally Republican areas such as Chillicothe, Springfield and Steubenville.

“Sherrod is a very popular Democrat,” said Mark Mills, the mayor-elect of Coshocton who was part of the Canary Candidates program. “He’s popular with the other party also. At the end of the day, Sherrod is for the people.”

Despite doing the program outside of the Ohio Democratic Party’s infrastructure, Brown said his program shouldn’t be seen as an end-run. They both have the same goals of getting Democrats elected across Ohio, Brown said.

Brown plans to keep the program running into 2020, though exactly what it will look like is unclear, but there will be a focus on statehouse and countywide races, he said.

Whether he can be successful next year is another question. The state has trended conservative over the past decade. Republican President Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket and still appears popular in the state. Statehouse seats are extremely gerrymandered to favor the GOP.

“We don’t take ones that we know are going to win like some people do,” Brown said. “We take some that are in really longshot races.”

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