U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown spread a message of economic populism to S.C. Democrats yesterday as his “Dignity of Work” tour rolled into Columbia on Friday.
The Ohio Democrat suggested raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and making it easier for workers to unionize as he courts the kind of blue-collar voters who helped elect President Donald Trump in 2016.
“We don’t value work the way we should,” Brown said. “Productivity is up, but workers’ wages are fundamentally flat.”
But unlike other 2020 contenders who have come through this first-in-the-South primary state, Brown has not yet announced if he will be run for the Democratic presidential nomination. He told local media Friday he expects to make a decision later this month.
Brown focused on people struggling to make ends meet when he visited the Fast Forward Community Technology Center in Columbia. The Devine Street center focuses on job training and education assistance for veterans transitioning out of homelessness.
One of their clients, Marine Corps veteran Darious Sanders, keeping up the rising costs of living is a challenge.
“People don’t want to work for the minimum wage because they can’t support their family or pay for housing,” Sanders said. “It takes a toll.”
Several times during the visit, Brown repeated that it takes takes 90 hours of work for a minimum-wage earner in Richland County to afford a two-bedroom apartment.
Brown has reason to think his message is an electoral winner. He won re-election last year in a Rust Belt state carried by Trump and where every other statewide office is held by a Republican.
The “Dignity of Work” tour’s itinerary is a strong indication of Brown’s presidential intentions. In addition to stops in Columbia and other S.C. cities, the tour will take Brown through Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire — all states with early primaries next year.
The campaign has critics, namely Republicans who say Brown is “siding with the far-left fringes of his party over an agenda that’s actually benefited workers,” in the words of Republican National Committee spokesperson Mandi Merritt.
Merritt points out that Brown voted against Republican-led cuts to taxes and regulations that the GOP credits for the country’s strong economic standing. Brown also has low ratings from business groups like the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Association of Manufacturers.
“How is voting against business and manufacturing respecting the ‘dignity of work?’” Merritt asked.
Brown told Democrats at a gathering at the Columbia home of former Democratic National Committee chairman Don Fowler that the interests of business executives and ordinary workers don’t always align.
“They say you can’t raise the minimum wage because you’ll throw people out of work,” Brown said. “They never say that about a $1 million raise for executives.”
If Brown jumps into the race, he will join other economic populists like Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren, and other Midwesterners like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. All of those candidates have already visited South Carolina.
Later Friday, Brown was scheduled to meet with Florence County Democrats at the Hyatt Hotel in Florence.
At noon on Saturday, Brown will speak to the Democratic Women of Darlington County at Jerusalem Baptist Church in Hartsville. He later will appear at the Dorchester County Democratic Party’s oyster roast at the Summerville Country Club.