Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who is seeking to unseat House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said Tuesday that he has a plan for his party to recover after a brutal election.
The first step, he said, is a change in the House Democratic leadership.
“Clearly what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked. So if you’re watching your favorite football team and seven years in a row they lose, you’re going screaming for a new coach,” Ryan told Yahoo News and Finance Anchor Bianna Golodryga.
“I love Nancy Pelosi, but it’s time for a new coach,” he continued. “It’s time for a new direction.”
He said Democrats should focus on economics rather than the myriad other issues that are on the Democratic agenda. Ryan has mentioned combatting Zika virus as an example of the issues that distract the party from what he thinks should be its main message.
“The main thrust of his argument is economic,” Ryan said of Donald Trump’s stunning win in the presidential election. “Our thrust needs to be economic.”
Ryan announced last week in a letter to colleagues that he was challenging Pelosi, the former House speaker who has led the Democratic caucus since 2002.
“Under our current leadership,” wrote Ryan, “Democrats have been reduced to our smallest congressional minority since 1929.”
And he told Yahoo News on Tuesday, “So I’m asking my colleagues: How many seats do we have to lose — 80, 90, 100 seats before we recognize that we need to make a change?”
Pelosi, a prolific fundraiser who says she has support of two-thirds of congressional Democrats, is seen as a heavy favorite to maintain her position when voting takes place on Nov. 30. She has held the position atop the Democratic caucus since 2003. But Ryan, 43, presents a younger option than the three top House Democrats: Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn, all in their 70s.
He’s also pitching himself as someone who understands the white, working-class voters who pushed Trump over the finish line in critical Midwestern states, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and his home state of Ohio.
“We’re not a national party right now. We’re a coastal party. And that means we’re going to be a long way from the majority in the House of Representatives,” he told Yahoo.
He later added: “If money was the answer, Hillary would be president and we would be in the majority right now. But money isn’t the answer. It’s about message. It’s about messengers. And it’s about how you pay attention to these working-class people.”
Here are a few things to know about the Ohioan challenging Pelosi:
1) Ryan was raised by a single mother in Niles, a town in northeast Ohio near the Pennsylvania border. He was a star quarterback at John F. Kennedy High School and committed to compete at Youngstown State, but after a knee injury, he transferred to Bowling Green.
2) He got his start in politics working for the late Rep. Jim Traficant, who represented the Youngstown area for two decades. After a stint in Traficant’s office, Ryan went to law school and won a seat in the Ohio state senate at age 26. After Traficant was convicted of federal corruption charges and expelled from the House in 2002, Ryan won the Democratic primary and eventually the seat. (Traficant got 15 percent of the vote from federal prison.)
3) Ryan has been popular in his district even as the area has turned red. Ryan said on CNN that Trump won his district, even as the lawmaker himself won 67 percent of the vote in his race, his minimum share of the vote in all but one of his reelection bids. (The one time he fell short, in 2010, his former mentor Traficant was out of prison and again on the ballot as a third-party candidate.)
4) Ryan was a vociferous advocate for Clinton throughout her campaign. Appearing at a rally to introduce former President Bill Clinton, he delivered one the sharpest attacks on Trump leveled by a Democrat. “He will gut you,” said Ryan in October of the Republican nominee, “and he will walk over your cold, dead body and he won’t even flinch. He’ll climb over your cold, dead body and get on his helicopter. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but that’s what’s at stake.”
5) He was anti-abortion until 2015. Ryan, who speaks often of his Catholic faith, wrote an op-ed for the Akron Beacon Journal explaining his evolution on the issue. “These women gave me a better understanding of how complex and difficult certain situations can become,” wrote Ryan. “And while there are people of good conscience on both sides of this argument, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: the heavy hand of government must not make this decision for women and families.” Ryan currently has a 100 percent rating with Planned Parenthood.
6) Even while running against her, he describes himself as a big fan of the current House Minority Leader. “I don’t like Nancy Pelosi,” said Ryan in an interview with the Huffington Post last week. “I love Nancy Pelosi. I think she’s terrific. I mean, she’s got more energy than half the caucus put together. She knows how to raise money. She’s great on the floor. But it’s about, ‘Is she the best person to help us get the majority back?’”
7) He has written two books, on subjects you would not necessarily expect from a congressman. “A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit” is a 2012 treatise on the power of meditation, while “The Real Food Revolution: Healthy Eating, Green Groceries, and the Return of the American Family Farm” is about, well, healthy eating.
8) Ryan could be using this contest with Pelosi to raise his profile for the 2018 Ohio gubernatorial race. Sitting governor John Kasich will be forced out due to term limits in two years, and Ryan could be a contender for the position. Ryan declined to rule out a run in an interview with the Washington Post this weekend.
Additional contributions by Colin Campbell.
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