Tim Ryan is the Democratic congressman from Ohio who has reportedly been dropping major hints that he plans to run for president in 2020. Sources close to Ryan say he has been talking to political operatives about his 2020 run and is in the first stages of putting together a campaign team, according to The Intercept.
Ryan is a complex character. He hails from a majority working class rural district, but he is obsessed with meditation and mindfulness; if he runs, he is expected to court the “yoga vote.” In spite of his yoga sympathies, he is not a member of the “progressive” movement, and spent years vocally opposing abortion rights.
This isn’t the first name that Ryan’s name has been mentioned for the 2020 race. Already last year, in 2017, other Democrats in the House were pushing Ryan to run for president. Some of them were referring to him, only half jokingly, as “Mr. President.”
Ryan is a rust-belt politician. Many of the counties in his district, once solidly Democrat, voted for Trump in the last election, and many people wonder whether Ryan would be able to reverse that trend.
Ryan is 45 years old; he is married and has a young son, Brady.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Ryan Is Expected to Court “Yoga Voters” If He Runs For the White House
Meditation and “mindfulness” are buzzwords often associated with people in big cities on the coasts. But Ryan says that yoga and medidation aren’t just for cosmopolitan elits. Ryan is the author of a book (“The Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit) which urges all Americans to meditate. He has also created a “Quiet Time Caucus” in the House of Representatives. And he advocates for teaching mindfulness in school; in an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox, Ryan said that teaching children mindfulness techniques boosts their test scores and improves their behavior.
The group “Yoga Votes,” which has worked with Ryan, estimates that about 20 million people in the US do at least some yoga.
2. Ryan Was Anti-Abortion Until 2015, When He Reversed His Position and Became Pro-Choice
Ryan was raised in a Catholic household, and he grew up staunchly opposed to abortion. He has written that he took it for granted that e would be pro-life. When he was first elected to Congress in 2002, Ryan was firmly in the pro-life camp.
But in 2015, the congressman published a letter explaining his evolving position on abortion. He said that talking to women about their experiences of abortion made him rethink his own views. Listening to their stories made him realize that, as he put it, “there is no easy answer” on abortion.
The 41 year old Ryan concluded by saying that he now believes that abortion should be a choice left up to individual women.
“I have come a long way since being a single, 26-year-old state senator, and I am not afraid to say that my position has evolved as my experiences have broadened, deepened and become more personal,” he wrote. He said that the birth of his own son, Brady Zetts Ryan, also made him think about what it must be like for women who become pregnant in abusive situations, or in deep poverty.
3. Other Democrats Are Calling Ryan “The White Male Whisperer” Who Can Reach White Working Class Voters
Not surprisingly, Democrats are still hyper-focused on the states that Hillary Clinton lost to Trump in 2016. And Democrats in the House believe that Ryan has a good chance of winning back the rust belt states that went Republican last year. After all, nine counties in Ryan’s own district (district 13 in Ohio) voted for Trump, but he continues to be popular with his electorate.
Matt Doyle, a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, says that’s something the party needs. He said Ryan is “someone that really speaks to the states we lost — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin — I mean, those would be areas where he would be really effective,” Doyle said.
Another congressman, who wanted to stay anonymous, told the Washington Examiner that he and his friends call Ryan “the white male whisperer” because Ryan can attract white male votes back to the Democratic party. White men voted overwhelmingly for Trump in the last election.
4. Ryan Wants to Legalize Marijuana. He Also Believes in a “Green Economy.”
Ryan wrote a piece for CNN recently, arguing that marijuana should be legal in all 50 states in the US. He said that far too many people in Ohio and across the country and in jail right now after being arrested for marijuana use. The congressman wrote, “I firmly believe no person should be sentenced to a lifetime of hardship because of a marijuana arrest. It is morally wrong and economically nonsensical. That is why I am calling for an end to marijuana being used as an excuse to lock up our fellow Americans.”
On a different kind of green note, Ryan has called for bringing back American manufacturing jobs by creating a “green economy” of building wind turbines and solar panels. In an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox, Ryan said the Democrats need to have a stronger economic plan. He said Democrats need a “made in America” plan, and a plan to bring back manufacturing. Ryan conceded that America probably can’t take back all of the simple manufacturing jobs that are done in China now. But he said American workers can excel at producing more complicated products, like wind turbines. He said the “green economy” should provide plenty of manufacturing jobs for highly skilled American workers.
5. In 2016, Ryan Tried to Take Over the Democratic Leadership from Nancy Pelosi
Nancy Pelosi has been leading the House Democrats for a long, long time. Since 2007, Pelosi has been the top Democrat in the House of Representatives (she was Speaker of the House until 2011, when she became the Minority Leader).
So it takes a special kind of nerve to go up against her. That’s what Ryan did in 2016: he mounted kind of coup among House Democrats to try and take over as their new leader.
At the time, Ryan said he was in a “David against Goliath” situation, in which he was the little guy, and Pelosi was the giant he was challenging. He said he was running to take over Pelosi’s seat because the Democrats needed “a new message, and a new messenger” to take back the Democratic party. Ryan lamented that the Democratic party was turning into a “coastal” party, dominated by New York, Massachussetts, and California. And he said the Democrats need to take back the middle of the country in order to “take back” Trump voters in the South, in the rust belt, and in rural areas.
Pelosi beat Ryan hands-down. The final vote tally was 134-63. But the challenge got Ryan national attention, and recognition among his fellow congressmembers. And that’s something that could translate into support if he runs for president.