MANSFIELD -- Even as the crowded Democratic presidential primary field ebbs and flows across the country, with no clear front runner emerging, Sherrod Brown doesn't regret his decision not to enter the race.
The long-time U.S. Senator, a Mansfield native, announced in March that he would not run for president, despite already taking all the necessary steps to assemble a competitive bid.
Brown, 66, discussed that decision on Tuesday morning during an exclusive interview with Richland Source while visiting Idea Works on West Fourth Street.
"I thought there was a way to possibly win it. I just didn't have the huge desire to want to run for president. You don't do it unless you really want it," said Brown, elected to the Senate in 2006.
The veteran politician, elected to the Ohio Statehouse for the first time in 1975, has held a myriad of elected offices, including Ohio Secretary of State and in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The presidential campaign was just one he chose not to enter, despite those who said Brown could represent the party's best chance to win in the Midwest and elsewhere.
"I have always like politics, when I grew up in Mansfield, when I graduated from Senior High. I just never thought of myself as running for president," said Brown, who went on to graduate from The Ohio State University and Yale.
"You have to have the desire to run for president. You don't do it right unless you really want it. Most candidates who run for president have thought about it, they have dreamed about it, they have planned for it.
"That just wasn't me. I love being in the Senate. You gotta be ambitious to get to the Senate, but I just didn't have that overriding 'I really really, really want to do this' for the next 18 months," Brown said.
Brown said Democrats are experiencing the same thing Republicans did in 2016 when Donald Trump finally emerged from a crowded slate of candidates.
"That's just the way the process works," Brown said. "(It's) how you start to narrow the field. I think they are doing it in a pretty good way. It's how much grassroots fundraising you're doing, not how many dollars, but how many people. You have to show something in the polls and if you're stuck at 1 percent, you gotta show you can do better ... and most of them won't," Brown said.
The candidates are spending much time in early-primary states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
"It's a bizarre process ... to give these states that kind of influence is a little bizarre, but that's how we pick a president now," he said.
It's the same plan U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Cincinnati) pledged to support when he visited Idea+Works in March.
Brown said he and Portman work together on such efforts, despite their policy differences. During his visit to Mansfield, Portman cited the success he and Brown had in helping Youngstown obtain a $10.8 million federal grant in 2018 from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Developments (BUILD) program.
"Rob and I disagree on the big issues, no surprise there, on everything from Trump nominees for judge, to the Iraq war of years ago, to tax policy. But on Mansfield-specific, Cincinnati-specific issues to help these communities, we always work together.
"Anything we can do help (an Ohio) community, whether it's a (BUILD) grant, a water-and-sewer project or a local government issues, we know with each other what to do. We will sign letters together, we will call agencies together, and we will occasionally visit people together," Brown said.
"That's why with Mansfield Rising and anything else that comes out of Shelby, Ontario, or Shiloh, or Mansfield, or Plymouth, we will work with the mayors and the chambers (of commerce)," Brown said.
Brown said local agreement on a project is essential to its success.
"My job is not to tell Mansfield what to do. My job is to maybe convene people and listen to them. 'What do you need from us?' When there is local agreement ... when business and local government and labor and local activists all come up with a specific plan, it makes all the difference," he said.
"When everyone agrees, it makes it a lot easier for Rob and me to deliver on it. That's really a key. They went to Austin, they came up with these ideas, they put this to paper ... it's a really, really good start," he said.
POLITICAL TENOR: Brown offered a simple solution to fix the heated political divide gripping the country.
"Punish the politicians that are most divisive," he said. "It's pretty simple in that way. I don't put it all at the feet of Trump, but he has been the most divisive president we have ever seen. He calls people names, including people he has nominated (and in his own party).
"Democrats have too often reciprocated, so it's never one person's fault. But he has certainly turned the heat up and the venom and the anger and the divisiveness ... and that's unfortunate," Brown said.
CHANGING LANDSCAPE: Brown said the political landscape continues to change and evolve.
"I don't think conventional wisdom plays the way it used to," he said. "You see in this state, in the industrial Midwest and really the country, Democrats win by bigger and bigger margins in metro areas. Democrats do worse and worse in smaller, rural and smaller cities like Mansfield, Zanesville, Portsmouth, Lima, Chillicothe and Springfield.
"That's just the way demographics and politics are changing. Partly, it's the diversity in the big cities, but it's more than that. It's educational levels, it's the decline of unions in cities.
"But I don't give up. I have spent a lot of time in communities like this and will that will continue. Whether I win in any of these counties is not the issue. I represent them just as much, whether they voted for me or not," Brown said.