Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), speaks to supporters in Columbus, Ohio after winning reelection. (John Minchillo/AP)
Opinion writer

The Cook Political Report has put out its first 2020 electoral map. The bottom line is that there are likely very few truly swing states, and the majority of them are in the upper Midwest. “Anchoring the toss-up column are the three former ‘Blue Wall’ states that Trump narrowly carried in 2016: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin,” writes Amy Walter. “Florida, the perennial 50-50 state is also housed here. Making its first appearance in Toss Up — at least this early in the cycle — is Arizona, a state that has been slowly drifting away from its GOP moorings in the Trump era.”

The easiest route for the Democrats who won 232 electoral votes in 2016 is to win back the three Blue Wall states, which add up to 46 electoral votes. That should not be a heavy lift considering Democrats won Senate and governor’s races in all three states in 2018.

There are plenty of Democrats in the race who could run on a bread-and-butter economic message (especially health care as Democrats did in 2018). However, when you think “Rust Belt” certainly Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who won his race by 7 percent, comes to mind. (He might also put Ohio, increasingly a Republican stronghold, in play, but that would be gravy.)

And sure enough, Brown seems to be making progress toward a 2020 run. In an op-ed in USA Today, Brown spells out his work-oriented message, this time with a strong emphasis on values, in the context of the shutdown:

As usual, President Donald Trump and far too many in Congress — self-professed Christians all — ignore the wisdom of Matthew 25: When did we ever see you hungry and not feed you? When did we ever see you sick and not help?

The Lord answered, whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me — you failed to do it for me.

This government shutdown is the latest example of how President Donald Trump has overlooked, ignored and betrayed American workers.

Well, that’s a heck of an opener. Brown reminds us that “the greatest pain from the president’s temper tantrum will fall on the lowest-wage workers who are invisible to this president.” He points out that for many low-skilled workers, employed by contractors, their meager pay, lack of job security and mediocre benefits leave them vulnerable. His solution?: “If you’re a huge corporation paying your workers so little that they’re forced onto government assistance, as some of these subcontracting companies do, you need to reimburse the American taxpayers. And when we hold corporations accountable for treating their workers poorly, we reduce the incentives for companies to pay their workers as little as possible."

Well, even if you don’t think that’s the cure-all (there are better ideas here and here and here) his central message seems right on point: “We have a large and growing problem in this country — we don’t respect the dignity of work and the people who do it. We must keep fighting for an economy that rewards all work, including the low income-workers who have been forgotten once again by this president.”

That sets up a contrast not only with Trump, the oblivious, cruel billionaire, but with the GOP’s agenda of late — tax cuts for the rich, taking away Obamacare without a good substitute and rolling back important labor laws. Think of him as a less-radical and younger version of self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Brown’s policy agenda during his Senate campaign — making college affordable, extending health-care coverage, fighting the opioid plague, helping small business and more — is tailor-made for 2020.

In case you doubted his interest in exploring a run, he’s going to Iowa soon — with his populist firebrand wife Connie Shultz and his chief of staff/possible campaign manager, Sarah Benzing.

Like all of the contenders, Brown would have challenges, especially if former vice president Joe I’m-Just-The-Guy-From-Scranton Biden entered the race. Many Democrats certainly would have difficulty with a white man at the top of the ticket. He’d need to clear the bar for commander in chief (although he might claim a leg up on President Trump since Brown did oppose the Iraq War from the start). He’s a lifetime politician, who’d be running at a time when voters remain highly distrustful of political insiders. None of these (with the possible exception of a Biden run) seem to be a deal-killer, however.

What I do not think will be a problem is his famously rumpled appearance and gravelly voice. Not presidential, harrumph! A candidate who looks and sounds a lot more like the voters he is courting and less like a coiffed politician (or a New York billionaire) might be an advantage.

Read more:

Sherrod Brown as Trump-slayer? Here’s his big idea.

George Will: Sherrod Brown may be the optimum challenger to Trump in 2020

When you read Kamala Harris’s book, you’ll come away with one thought: She’s running

Why Elizabeth Warren turned out to be so likable, after all

Democrats risk misreading the meaning of the midterms