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2020 is looking to be a pivotal year in politics. But this year's elections are about much more than the race for the White House. And the coronavirus pandemic is proving to be a complicating factor. WKSU, our colleagues at public radio stations across Ohio and the region and at NPR will bring you coverage of all the races from the national to the local level.

In a Crowded Democratic Presidential Race, Tim Ryan Says 'We Don't Need a Superstar'

photo of Joan Murphy, Mary Cummins
Joan Murphy (left) and Mary Cummins said they find Congressman Tim Ryan to be a lot like President John F. Kennedy. After his speech on Saturday, Ryan told reporters he admired Kennedy for his vision for America.

Tim Ryan rallied voters in his hometown over the weekend, garnering support for his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination amid a crowded field. The nine-term Congressman spoke before an enthusiastic crowd in downtown Youngstown on West Federal Street, which was closed off for the event, hitting the stage by proclaiming, “I’m Tim Ryan, and I’m running for President of the United States of America!”

Many held up red, white and blue “Our Future Is Now” signs, or wore shirts given out by the campaign. 

photo of Tim Ryan, Ray Mancini
During his speech on Saturday, Ryan used a number of sporting metaphors and references to his athletic career. He also gave a nod to Hall of Fame boxer Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini (right) in the audience.

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. 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.”

Wait and see
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 President Donald Trump in 2016.

“To be honest with you, I’m glad. 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.

“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.”

From the House to the White House
The last president to be elected directly from the 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. 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 General Motors plant in Lordstown – a major blow to the Mahoning Valley.

photo of Tim Ryan rally
The crowd on West Federal Street in downtown Youngstown still contained at least two supporters of President Donald Trump, who won the Mahoning Valley and Ohio in 2016, and made a rally style appearance in Youngstown in 2017 promising that jobs were coming back to the region.

Taking on Trump
In his speech on Saturday, he said polarization has harmed the nation’s ability to compete.

“The competition that we are in today is fierce. 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.”

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. 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,” says Murphy. Cummins adds, “He’s a mixture of Joe Biden and the Kennedys because they have a good heart; they always cared about the people. The low-income and working-class people.”

Hitting the campaign trail
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. Read about the first eight here.


Kabir Bhatia joined WKSU as a Reporter/Producer and weekend host in 2010. While a Kent State student, Bhatia served as a WKSU student assistant, working in the newsroom and for production.