2020 hopefuls - What's Your Point?

This week's panel: Jessica Colon - Republican strategist, Nyanza Davis Moore - Democratic Political Commentator Attorney,  Jacob Monty – Republican attorney,  Antonio Diaz- writer, educator and radio host,  Tomaro Bell – Super Neighborhood leader, Kathleen McKinley – conservative blogger discuss the 2020 presidential candidates.

 

CORY BOOKER

WASHINGTON (AP) - Cory Booker leaped into the 2020 presidential race on Friday with a call for Americans to unite in a time of bitter polarization while some of his Democratic rivals are taking a more combative stance as they vie to take on President Donald Trump.

Booker's entry into the Democratic primary was steeped in history and symbolism, befitting his status as the second black candidate in a historically diverse field. Invoking the legacy of the national movements for civil rights and for women's suffrage, the New Jersey senator urged a return to a "common sense of purpose" and cast his appeal to the nation's better angels as an uplifting alternative to Trump.

The 49-year-old Booker told reporters outside his home in Newark that "love ain't easy," adding: "The people I admire are the people that lead by calling out the best of who we are and not the worst. So, I'm running for president because I believe in us. I believe in these values."

Whether Democrats are in the mood to embrace Booker's optimistic persona after two years of fuming about Trump's presidency remains to be seen. With Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren running as a champion for the middle class in a fight against powerful interests, and California Sen. Kamala running on taking on Trump directly, Booker's fate may hinge on a bet that the electorate will respond again to the soaring oratory that helped Barack Obama break through in 2008.

Known for his easy way with voters during an age of selfies and social media, Booker, the former mayor of Newark, announced his bid with a video that showcased his personal ties to the "low-income, inner city community" he says he led to a comeback. Booker won a special Senate election in 2013 and then a full Senate term in 2014.

Veteran GOP strategist Doug Heye lauded Booker's video for a "fresh perspective" and suggested that the senator could fill a key niche in the 2020 primary.

"There will be plenty of time for Democrats to 'take on Trump' in the coming months," Heye said. "No doubt that is what a sizable part of the Democratic base wants, but if the campaign is all about who is the true anti-Trump, Democrats could miss connecting with voters who want to see a Washington that works."

Booker hustled to make those connections on Friday, calling in to three radio shows popular with black and Hispanic listeners and appearing on "The View," a staple for female audiences, with his mother in the audience. Asked how a committed vegan could win fans at the meat-and-butter-centric Iowa state fair, Booker said he enjoys "lots of deep-fried stuff" and underscored his family ties to that pivotal early-voting state: His grandmother was born there.

Booker is cultivating key powerbrokers Iowa, as well as early voting New Hampshire and South Carolina. He plans to visit all three states before March.

Before he hit the road, the White House took its own hit at his candidacy. Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president, told CBS News that Booker "often sounds like a Hallmark card and not necessarily a person who is there to tell you everything he's accomplished."

Booker will be able to run for a second full Senate term in 2020 while running for president, thanks to a law that New Jersey's governor signed in November.

Booker joined a field getting more crowded and diverse by the week. As many as five more Democratic senators could soon mount their own primary bids, creating a competition for voters' attention. Several of Booker's rivals for the nomination bring higher name recognition to a race that could still include former Vice President Joe Biden.

He could face further difficulty winning the hearts of the progressive Democratic base due to his past financial ties to banking and pharmaceutical interests. Booker said he would stop taking contributions from pharmaceutical companies in 2017, the year that he partnered with potential rival Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on a bill that would allow importation of prescription drugs from Canada. Asked on Friday about Harris' suggestion that the private health insurance industry be eliminated in the transition to single-payer health care, which both she and Booker support, Booker said that he envisions the continued existence of private providers.

Still, Booker is underscoring his progressive identity by joining many other prominent Democratic White House contenders by forswearing all donations from corporate political action committees and federal lobbyists to his campaign, which is dubbed Cory 2020. A prominent Booker supporter, San Francisco attorney Steve Phillips, says he is working on millions of dollars in committed donations to a so-called super PAC that would boost the senator's candidacy, but Booker's campaign is openly against super PACs playing any role in the presidential race.

And he was resolute on Friday in elevating his message that "the only way we can make change is when people come together."

"We've got to be a country that gets back to sharing a common sense of purpose about what we're for and who we're for," Booker said during a satellite radio interview.

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) - Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand agreed with every position raised by enthusiastic young voters in New Hampshire on Friday night except one: appointing a bipartisan Cabinet.

The New York senator kicked off a weekend of campaigning in the state that will hold the earliest presidential primary next year with a speech in a crowded back corner of a Manchester brewery. She accused President Donald Trump of dividing and weakening the nation and said she would bring it together.

But when a college student asked her to prove her commitment to uniting the country by appointing Republicans to her Cabinet, she said, "Interesting idea, but no."

Gillibrand said the fact that 18 of her bills passed under a Republican Congress and president shows she can work with politicians on both side of the aisle.

"I know how to find common ground in red and purple places," she said.

The student, 22-year-old Madison Mangels, said later that while she understood Gillibrand's reasoning and thinks she's done a "tremendous job being senator," she believes a bipartisan Cabinet would be an important step toward ending divisiveness in politics.

Mangels wasn't ready to throw her support behind Gillibrand. "There are so many great candidates, I really want to wait until everyone's out in the open to make a decision," she said.

The event was organized by the New Hampshire Young Democrats, which seen its membership grow more than tenfold in the last two years and was energized by electing more than three dozen Democrats under the age of 40 to the state Legislature in November.

Meghan Hoskins, 26, of Portsmouth, liked what she heard from Gillibrand on climate change, immigration, LGBTQ rights and other issues.

"Those issues are all important to me. I'd say she's definitely in my top three," said Hoskins, who also is leaning toward the two other female senators in the race, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Gillibrand, who was appointed to the Senate in 2009 to fill the seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, has been among the Senate's most vocal members on issues like sexual harassment, military sexual assault, equal pay for women and family leave. On the campaign trail so far, she has cast herself as a fighter for children in particular.

On issues ranging from bail reform to climate change, she told the crowd Friday to imagine "the fear as a parent" - first, as a parent separated from a child because he couldn't afford to post bail, then as a parent whose child was swept away by Superstorm Sandy. She argued she is well-equipped to address those problems because she has both compassion and courage to act.

It was not Gillibrand's first trip to New Hampshire. She campaigned for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Molly Kelly in October, and is a graduate of Dartmouth College.

 

TULSI GABBARD

HONOLULU (AP) - U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard expects to kick off her presidential campaign with a rally in her home state of Hawaii this weekend.

The Democratic congresswoman's first rally on Saturday comes after she formally launched her effort with an online video and declaration on CNN last month.

Her nascent campaign swiftly ran into trouble as critics pounced on her efforts to block the legalization of same-sex marriage in Hawaii and a meeting she held with Syrian President Bashar Assad. She released a video apologizing for advocating against gay rights.

State Sen. Kai Kahele, a Democrat, then announced he would run for Gabbard's congressional seat in 2020. Gabbard hasn't said whether she plans to run for re-election as a congresswoman while simultaneously seeking the presidency.

Politico reported this week Gabbard campaign manager Rania Batrice was leaving.

The rally will be held on a lawn at a sprawling Hilton hotel complex in Waikiki.

Gabbard, 37, has said she's running for president because U.S. military action in Iraq, Libya and Syria has destabilized the Middle East, made the U.S. less safe and cost thousands of American lives. She says terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State group are stronger than before the Sept.11 terrorist attacks.

She was a fierce opponent of same-sex marriage when she served in the state Legislature in her 20s. But she has since disavowed those views and professes her support for LGBTQ rights.

Gabbard has represented Honolulu's suburbs and rural Hawaii in the U.S. House since 2013. She is a combat veteran who served in Iraq and Kuwait with the Hawaii National Guard.

KAMALA HARRIS

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - Democrat Kamala Harris arrived onto the 2020 stage this week with a presidential campaign rollout that was hard to miss. From her announcement in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," to the nationally televised town hall in Iowa, the California senator showed she was on message and all in.

The carefully orchestrated affair helped earn her nearly a week of national headlines and millions of dollars in campaign contributions. It also revealed much about the candidate and her strategy. Here's a look at what we learned about Harris in her first week as a declared presidential candidate.

AT THE STARTING LINE

Harris wasn't the first Democrat to join the race to take on President Donald Trump, but the capstone of her rollout - a lofty speech in her hometown of Oakland - separated her from the pack so far.

Other early entrants have held small-group events or speeches. Harris staged a campaign-style rally. The event drew thousands of people to downtown Oakland, where Harris spoke against a backdrop of American flags to a crowd that spilled into overflow areas. Large screens at the event displayed a campaign slogan that made an overt nod to her career as a prosecutor, and a logo that took inspiration from Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for president in a major party. It took organization and planning, particularly for a campaign that is just officially getting off the ground but, with a number of experienced political aides, has also been months in the making.

Harris's advisers estimated the crowd at more than 20,000, and it spread from the plaza into the surrounding streets. Before Harris took the stage, a local pastor delivered an invocation with political overtures, a gospel choir belted the national anthem and Bay Area musicians performed.

Harris, who would be the first woman and the first black woman president, seized other moments to punctuate her history-making candidacy. She announced her candidacy on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. She followed that speech up with a homecoming of sorts to her alma mater, Howard University, and a sprint to South Carolina to speak at a gathering of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, of which she is a member.

DEFINING HER STORY

Harris's campaign knows many people don't know much about the first-term senator. She was ready to fill in the blanks.

Her California speech was full of biographical details and she cast herself the center of a quintessentially American story. Her parents were both immigrants, her mother from India and father from Jamaica, who she said "like so many others ... came in pursuit of a dream."

Harris said she and her sister Maya, who will serve as her campaign's chair, were raised "to believe that public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is everyone's responsibility."

She invoked Bob Marley: "You've got to get up and stand up and don't give up the fight."

But Harris also showed she was ready to defend her vulnerabilities. The former prosecutor has been criticized by some criminal justice advocates as being too tough on the accused during her tenures as the San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general. She answered those criticisms by declaring, "Too many black and brown Americans are locked up" and suggesting she supports reforms.

"My whole life, I've only had one client: The people," Harris said during Sunday's speech, framing her law enforcement career as one focused on helping others.

EARLY STATE STRATEGY

From her California launch, Harris headed to Iowa to participate in a CNN town hall where she fielded questions from Iowa voters, followed by a stop at a local watch party. Monday's town hall did double duty. It put Harris face-to-face with the key early voters. But it also allowed Harris to continue to introduce herself to a national audience.

On Tuesday, CNN announced that the town hall was the most watched single-candidate election town hall on cable news ever.

Ahead of the town hall event, Harris's campaign announced that she'd named Deidre DeJear, whom she supported in her race to become Iowa's secretary of state, as her campaign chair in Iowa. Harris's campaign also added Will Dubbs, a Clinton campaign alum, as Iowa state director, both early additions and signs of how Harris's nascent campaign is growing in the leadoff state.

While Harris traveled to Iowa and South Carolina in the first week of her campaign, and has clearly made California a focal point, she is also making moves in New Hampshire, recently adding Craig Brown as her state director. Brown, a well-known New Hampshire politico, served as campaign manager for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Molly Kelly. Harris, though, has yet to appear in New Hampshire herself.

ON POLICY

During the town hall, which tilted heavily toward policy questions, Harris again defended her law enforcement background and seemed to throw her support behind a number of left-leaning ideas, including suggesting she would back a "Green New Deal." She did not provide specifics.

And already, one of Harris's responses is being questioned by some of her would-be rivals in the race.

Moderator Jake Tapper questioned her on whether the "Medicare for All" health plan, which she said she feels "very strongly" about, would mean eliminating private insurers for those who would prefer to keep them.

"The idea is everyone gets access to medical care," Harris responded, noting situations where patients have had to wait for insurers to approve treatments, despite the fact that their physicians have deemed them necessary.

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said Tuesday that Harris wants to "abolish the insurance industry," something he called "not American." And in New Hampshire, Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, said of Harris's position: "I think you could never afford that," and argued that replacing the "entire private system" would not be practical.

SETTING THE TONE

In the first full week of her campaign, Harris demonstrated how she would seek to differentiate herself from Trump. At the Iowa town hall, she was asked by a voter how she would debate Trump "without becoming reactive" or "getting caught up in his crazy."

Harris said that she would "speak like a leader" rather than "inciting fear."

Harris's rebuke in Iowa of Trump was a theme she echoed on Sunday in her Oakland speech, where she told attendees that "I will always speak with decency and moral clarity and treat all people with dignity and respect."

ELIZABETH WARREN

WASHINGTON (AP) - Elizabeth Warren is expected to officially announce her candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on February 9.

The Massachusetts senator is telling supporters she'll make a "BIG announcement" that day.

Warren opened her presidential exploratory committee exactly one month ago, a move that made her the first prominent sitting Democrat to enter the Democratic primary race.

Warren has since been joined in the presidential mix by two fellow Democratic senators - Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Kamala Harris of California.

 

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - At 36, Pete Buttigieg is just over the minimum age required to be president of the United States. Outside South Bend, Indiana, the Rust Belt community where he's been mayor since age 29, few people know his name. Those who know it struggle to pronounce it. (It's BOO'-tah-juhj.)

None of that has deterred Buttigieg - a Democrat, Rhodes scholar and Navy veteran known to most people as "Mayor Pete" - from contemplating a 2020 presidential bid against a crowd of much better-known lawmakers with more experience and more money.

He's among a number of potential candidates who believe the 2016 and 2018 elections showed that voters are looking for fresh faces and that the old rules of politics, in which lawmakers toil for years in statehouses or in Congress before aspiring to higher office, may no longer apply. They're benefiting from Democrats' fears about running another member of the party's old guard against President Donald Trump in 2020.

The group includes Julian Castro, the 44-year-old former San Antonio mayor, and Tulsi Gabbard, the 37-year-old congresswoman from Hawaii, who've already said they're running. Yet to decide is perhaps the biggest breakout star of the midterm elections, former three-term Rep. Beto O'Rourke, 46, who ran a tougher-than-expected race against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, a 38-year-old Iowa native, has also been spending time in the state with the nation's first caucuses.

They would provide several potential "firsts" in what's already shaping up to be an unusually diverse field. Castro could become the first Latino to win his party's nomination, while Buttigieg - who married his husband last year - would be the first openly gay nominee from a major political party.

"I think most people are thinking: 'Why not?' They think all the rules have been broken, that anybody can run," said Buttigieg, who has said he'll announce his decision on whether to run for president soon. "I think some of the rules have been broken, but there's only one way to find out which ones."

There's no question these relative newcomers face extremely long odds, running in a field that could include heavyweights like former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Also in the mix are more than a half-dozen U.S. senators.

Critics question whether people such as Buttigieg and Castro are entirely serious or whether they're trying to position themselves for a Cabinet position or maybe just trying to sell more of their books. (Castro's came out last fall; Buttigieg's is due for release next month.)

But these upstart candidacies aren't being ignored as they once would've been.

The 2018 election helped break that mold, as a diverse group of hopefuls - many running for their first political office - fueled Democrats' takeback of the House. Turnout among voters ages 18 to 29 increased to 31 percent, its highest level in a midterm election in a quarter century, according to a Tufts University voting analysis.

Buttigieg raised his national profile when he left his day job to serve as a lieutenant with the Navy Reserve in Afghanistan in 2014, and again with an unsuccessful 2017 bid for Democratic National Committee chairman. President Barack Obama mentioned him post-2016 as a politician to watch. (U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, another possible 2020 candidate, was another.) O'Rourke used social media in 2018 to build a name - and raise millions - far outside Texas. Next month he'll sit for an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

"Certainly the results of 2018 made candidates like Pete (Buttigieg) think 'There's a place for me in there,'" said Doug House, a longtime Democratic county chairman from Rock Island, Illinois, along the Iowa-Illinois border.

Buttigieg, who turns 37 on Saturday, says there's potential for younger voters to gravitate toward a younger candidate. He says he's also had strong support from older voters, who helped him easily win two terms.

Older voters were "a big part of how I got elected here," he says while eating lunch at a cafe tucked inside South Bend's indoor farmers market, one of the sites he says have helped bring life back to the city of about 100,000 people. The city, which neighbors the University of Notre Dame, was hit hard by the decline of manufacturing, dating back to the closing of the Studebaker plant in 1963. Now that campus is home to a technology park.

His parents both worked at Notre Dame, but he left town to attend Harvard in part because he believed people who said there was no future in South Bend.

Buttigieg argues that, as a younger candidate, he brings a forward-looking view to politics and a personal awareness that the consequences of climate change or huge deficits will be more than theoretical.

"You just have a certain mindset based on the fact that - to put it a little bluntly - you plan to be here in 2050," he said.

He talks about being part of a generation that's supplied most of the troops for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he says there are advantages to not being the star candidate right out of the gate.

"The longer you can go into this process without being famous, the more you can drive around in your Chevy and say 'hi' to people," said Buttigieg, who drives a Chevy Cruze.

House got to know Buttigieg last year when the mayor filled in for Biden as speaker at an annual gathering of Illinois Democrats.

Afterward, people in the crowd of 3,000 "said time and time again they came to the event very interested in seeing an important, historic person in our party - Joe Biden - and what they saw was the future of our party," House said.

HOWARD SCHULTZ

SEATTLE (AP) - "Grande ego. Venti mistake": That was the message protesters had for former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz as he returned to his hometown of Seattle after announcing that he's mulling an independent run for president.

Several dozen protesters gathered outside a downtown theater before Schultz appeared to promote his new book Thursday night. They included Democrats who fret his candidacy would hand President Donald Trump another term, and green-and-gold-bedecked basketball fans who haven't forgiven him for selling the Seattle SuperSonics to a group that moved the team to Oklahoma City more than a decade ago.

"The way he dealt with the Sonics shows a huge fault in his character," said Farheen Siddiqui, 25, who wore a team jersey to the protest.

Inside, though, he got a warmer reception, with hearty applause from a crowd of 1,100, especially when he apologized about the Sonics and described the health insurance and stock options he offered to Starbucks employees early on.

"I'm a fan of everything Howard's done with Starbucks," said Annie Peters, of Bellevue. "He obviously cares about people but has done a great job building the business as well. I've been waiting for someone like him to run."

The 65-year-old billionaire and Democratic donor, who stepped down as Starbucks chairman last June, has been on a tour of talk shows and news interviews the past few days, coinciding with the release of his latest book, "From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America."

He said he doesn't intend to decide whether to run for president for several months, but the reaction from prominent Democrats has been swift. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, the party chairwoman in Washington state, top advisers to former President Barack Obama and the most powerful political action committee in Democratic politics are among those who have criticized him, saying an independent bid would likely split the opposition to Trump and make his re-election more likely.

The protesters outside his talk Thursday chanted: "Pick a party." Some carried signs decorated like Starbucks cups that read "Compost your campaign" and "Grande ego. Venti mistake" - a reference to the Italian names for drink sizes at the coffee chain.

Schultz promised the crowd, "I will do nothing on any level to proceed if I thought I would in any way persuade Americans to vote and re-elect Donald Trump."

In Seattle, where 92 percent of voters cast ballots against Trump in 2016, helping get him re-elected might be even less popular than selling off a beloved sports franchise. Many in the audience applauded a heckler's suggestion he run as a Democrat, and several also cheered ideas that Schultz was panning, such as drastically increased tax rates on the super-rich.

The crowd was more muted when Schultz explained away his voting record - he's cast a ballot in just 11 of 38 state, federal and local elections since 2005, as The Seattle Times first reported. He said he has voted in every presidential election since he turned 18, but otherwise said he simply hasn't been engaged in local politics.

Chris Petzold, a Democratic activist from the Seattle suburb of Issaquah, organized the protest Thursday. She said she remains sad about the Sonics departure, but the protest wasn't about that.

"Now is not the time to risk getting another four years with Donald Trump as president," Petzold said. "If you want to fix it, why not fix it from within the system, instead of being your arrogant billionaire self? He's just buying his way into this."

Schultz has repeatedly said he doesn't want to be responsible for Trump's re-election, but that he believes there is a way to unite a significant portion of the public that identifies with neither major party.

In an opinion piece published Wednesday in The Seattle Times, Schultz acknowledged that he has a "complicated" relationship with Seattle, a city he first fell in love with during a visit to Pike Place Market in 1981. It's the city where he grew a small coffee-roasting company into an inescapable global chain, where he and his wife raised their two children, and where the couple still lives.

Along the way he made Starbucks one of the first U.S. companies to offer stock options and health insurance even to part-time employees; more recently, it partnered with Arizona State University to cover tuition for workers who want to earn their bachelor's degrees online.

In 2001, Schultz led a group of investors in buying the Sonics and the WNBA's Seattle Storm for $200 million. Due partly to an unfavorable lease deal and the small size of KeyArena, where the team played, the Sonics were losing millions of dollars a year.

After being rebuffed by the Legislature in his efforts to win public funding to remodel the venue, Schultz sold the team for $350 million to the group that moved it to Oklahoma City and renamed it the Thunder. The Sonics were Seattle's oldest professional sports franchise and the first Seattle team to win a national title since the Seattle Metropolitans won hockey's Stanley Cup in 1917.

"I was so focused on getting myself and others out of a money-losing situation that I made a bad choice and failed to follow a principle that helped me grow Starbucks, which is to try to balance profit with humanity," he wrote in The Seattle Times. "Selling the Sonics is the biggest regret of my professional life."

Some Sonics fans considered the apology long overdue - not to mention suspect, given that it coincided with the announcement of his presidential musings.

Schultz's politics aren't necessarily going to win him many fans in his liberal hometown, either.

In Seattle, voters rarely see a tax increase they don't like; Schultz has called for entitlement reform and branded the calls of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats for big tax increases on the ultra-rich "ridiculous."

Seattle was one of the first U.S. cities to approve a $15-an-hour minimum wage; Schultz opposed it, fearing it would cost jobs. The law remains popular, and economists say it has raised pay without any real impact on employment.

Schultz's consideration of a presidential run even drew a rebuke from a fellow Seattle billionaire, early Amazon investor and outspoken liberal Nick Hanauer.

"What Howard calls 'centrism' is just trickle-down economics_tax cuts for the rich, de-regulation for the powerful, and wage suppression for everyone else," Hanauer tweeted.

 

SHERROD BROWN

CRESCO, Iowa (AP) - Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio sounded an awful lot at home Thursday in rural Howard County, Iowa, on his first stop in the politically influential state Friday.

"We chose here because we grew up in communities that so often get ignored," Brown told about 30 Democratic activists in tiny Cresco. "Wall Street totally ignores communities like this and so too often does state and national government."

Brown was opening his three-day trip to the state that hosts the first 2020 presidential caucuses in the one county in the nation both Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Donald Trump won by at least 20 percentage points.

Brown argued, taking a very public step in his consideration of a 2020 presidential campaign, that working-class voters who backed Trump have been betrayed, notably by the Republican-signed tax bill that benefited wealthy Americans more.

"It's not just the middle class, it's the broad spectrum of people who work hard and just simply don't get a break these days," Brown told the audience who turned out in sub-zero weather in the town of 3,800 where manufacturing jobs have sharply waned over the past decade.

Like Ohio, where Trump won in 2016 on the strength of working-class voters, Brown's other stops on his three-day Iowa itinerary underscore his central argument as a potential 2020 presidential contender: That he understands economically challenged Midwestern voters who helped make Trump president.

In Cresco, fewer than 20 miles from the Minnesota state line, the largest employer is a non-union trailer manufacturer that shed a third of its workforce a decade ago.

"Blue collar voters and moderate Democrats haven't had anyone to put their faith in lately," said Howard County Democratic Party Chairwoman Laura Hupka, who attended Brown's gathering at Cresco's small welcome center office. "But Sherrod speaks to them. He speaks like a normal guy, unassuming, but thoughtful."

Brown has said some Democrats wrongly divide the party into its liberal base and working-class voters, chiefly those non-college-educated white voters who lifted Trump not just in Ohio, but also in swing states Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

During more than 25 years in Congress, Brown has championed worker-friendly trade and tax policies. He is also a close ally of labor unions, and has also supported liberal causes such as abortion rights, same-sex marriage and opposition to the Iraq war.

Brown attributes his re-election to a third Senate term last year to the resonance of a message to workers who feel left behind, while also embracing his party's liberal base, including its growing racial and ethnic diversity.

Several of Brown's planned Iowa stops are in counties carried by Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016, and all of them in places that have shed thousands of manufacturing jobs in recent decades.

"He's making a statement with where he's going," veteran Iowa Democratic strategist John Norris said of Brown's plans. "It plays right to his strength - that rural, populist, labor thing - you can weave that together in all those towns."

Brown will also visit Perry, where once-unionized meatpacking plants are now staffed largely by immigrant workers willing to accept lower wages.

He plans to bypass the well-worn path of presidential hopefuls through the metropolitan capital city of Des Moines, where would-be rivals and Senate colleagues Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren have held big events this month.

Instead, he will continue to northeastern Iowa cities Clinton, Dubuque and Waterloo, where John Deere remains an important union employer but has shrunk its local workforce by more than 10,000 jobs in the past 40 years.

Associated Press reporter Michael Catalini in Newark, New Jersey, contributed to this report.