Mahoning Valley Congressman Tim Ryan missed a great chance to give a nationally renowned television talk show host a news scoop.
Indeed, Chris Matthews, who has a nightly show on MSNBC, was almost begging for Ryan of Howland, D-13th, to announce that he is running for president.
But for some inexplicable reason, the eight-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives just wouldn’t bite.
Here’s some of the exchange between Matthews (with his trademark rapid-fire questioning) and Ryan:
Matthews: I hear a voice here. I hear the voice of a candidate. You running? Why don’t you say you’re running? What do you have to lose?
Ryan: I don’t know if I’m …
Matthews: You were in New Hampshire the other day, you were all around the country. How many states have you been in the last month?
Ryan: I was in Kentucky, I was in Alabama, I’ll be in Indiana, I’m going to West Virginia. None of those are early primary states. I go if I’m invited.
Matthews: You were in Iowa for the steak …
Ryan: “I was in Iowa, and they’ve invited me back.
Matthews: And you’re laughing. Why don’t you say you’re running instead of laughing.
Ryan: Because I don’t know if I am.
Chris Matthews has been around American politics for a long time and has the innate ability to read people. He also doesn’t make it a habit of encouraging politicians to use “Hardball With Chris Matthews” as a political launching pad for higher office.
However, he seemed to be giving Ryan every opportunity to step up to the plate.
Here’s some more of the exchange:
Matthews: I love Joe Biden … and I see all these guys in their 70s and Hillary [Clinton] and Nancy [Pelosi] and all these older people and I keep thinking what’s the generation that’s going to step up and say ‘Our turn?’ Your turn? Is it your turn?
Ryan: I don’t know. What I’m saying is we’re trying to rebuild the party …
Matthews: You want to be president of the United States? Yes or no?
Ryan: “I don’t know, maybe one day.
Matthews: Just tell me would you like the people out there to think of you as a future president?
Ryan: I want to be a major leader in the Democratic Party in the country. I will leave it at that.
Underlying Matthews’ persistent questioning was the notion that the Democratic Party needs some fresh faces in its national lineup.
Ironically, that was the very message Ryan, who turned 44 in July, delivered last year when he challenged Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California for the leadership of the House Democratic caucus.
Ryan’s 13th District includes most of Mahoning and Trumbull counties and portions of Portage, Stark and Summit counties.
It is so heavily Democratic that he wins re-election by wide margins.
However, in last year’s presidential election, Republican Donald Trump carried Trumbull County and fared quite well in Mahoning County.
Trump, who does not adhere to Republican orthodoxy and did not run as a traditional Republican conservative, appealed to the Valley’s blue-collar workers, especially white males.
The outcome of the presidential election, in which political newcomer Trump defeated Democratic Party insider Hillary Clinton, has prompted a great deal of soul-searching on the part of Democrats.
Ryan’s challenge of Pelosi was portrayed as a clash of generations within the family.
The Valley congressman’s bid became a national story because he was taking on one of the most powerful members of Congress.
The audacity of the challenge burnished Ryan’s reputation in political circles.
But the growing discontent among Democrats nationally because of the party’s dwindling political fortunes was not reflected in the House caucus vote.
Pelosi, who is 76 years old, has been in Congress for 30 years and was the first female speaker of the House of Representatives, showed she still commands loyalty.
The final vote: Pelosi, 134; Ryan, 63.
This writer had used the word “foolhardy” to describe Ryan’s bid for minority leader, saying there could be political retribution for his very public display of perceived disloyalty. After all, Pelosi had long considered Ryan a rising star and had rewarded him with choice committee assignments.
In the end, however, the Valley congressman turned out to be right when he insisted there would be no retaliation from Pelosi.
While he suffered a major defeat, his name recognition nationally skyrocketed.
Since that battle, Ryan has become a regular on the television talk show circuit, has been interviewed by national publications and is being invited by Democratic Party leaders around the country to participate in discussions about the future of the party.
As he told Chris Matthews, Democrats have focused so much attention on the presidential election they’ve lost sight of the fact that the party has lost a lot of ground in state elections.
In 2010, the Ohio Republican Party won every statewide office and took control of the General Assembly. But the major prize was the GOP’s ability to redraw the boundaries for congressional districts. As a result, there are 12 Republicans and four Democrats serving in the U.S. House. Ohio’s two senators are Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown.
Although Ryan insists his priority is to help Democrats win elections in 2018, he continues to feed the perception that he has his sights set on the race for president.
When he was in New Hampshire, he was asked during an interview if he was contemplating a bid for president. Rather than saying no, or hedging, he offered this reply:
“Maybe the country needs somebody from a place like Youngstown.”
That’s why Chris Matthews kept pushing.
At some point, Ryan will figure out that being coy isn’t good political strategy. It suggests indecisiveness. The American people want a president who is decisive.