BLUFFTON, Ohio — Ahead of Election Day, Democrat Shannon Freshour spoke exclusively with Spectrum Washington bureau reporter Taylor Popielarz about her race against Republican Congressman Jim Jordan in the 4th District.
You can watch the full, uncut conversation above or read the full transcript below.
And you can watch the full report on the race in the 4th Congressional District by clicking here.
Taylor Popielarz: So I want to start off with kind of a blanket question. I’ve been asking other candidates who are running for the first time why, at such a time when Congress is viewed so unfavorably, you want to do this job, but I want to pack on something else to your question. I was looking up — I’m familiar with this district because I cover Congressman Jordan from Washington — President Trump won this district with 64% of the votes in 2016. Congressman Jordan has been easily reelected six different times. I guess, why was it worth it for you, added on to the fact that not many people like Congress right now, to jump into this?
Shannon Freshour: Because I believe that everyone has the right to be represented. That’s how our system works. And right now, we don’t have a congressman who represents people. And it was really important to me to be able to give back for the support that the taxpayers of Ohio have given me and my family over the years. And to do that, I can do that this way. And I can ensure that the next generation of Ohioans get benefits and the helping hand that we got, my family got. But also because no one gets a free pass in Congress. No one should get a free pass to Congress. You should have to fight for it and you should have to explain why you’re the best person and defend your policies and your plans and what you want to do and how you want to do it. And that should be the standard operating practice of every congressperson.
Taylor Popielarz: When I’m in D.C., and I speak with people who are familiar with this district and are familiar with Ohio, obviously the shape of the district gets brought up and the history of gerrymandering, and both parties have been culpable for that in the past. But it also is the fact that this is a very red district, and I was out talking today with people and Congressman Jordan is beloved by a lot. I’m curious just what your experience has been as a new Democrat running in this area. Have you been embraced by some? Have you been met with a lot of opposition?
Shannon Freshour: I’ve been met with almost no opposition. And I find that Mr. Jordan isn’t as beloved as — there are people who absolutely, absolutely adore him. But there are a lot of people who are done with the shtick, and they’re done with the tantrums, and they’re done with the show that is Jordan. And I find that from Republicans, I find that from Democrats, I find that from Independents. I regularly will have — it usually happens when it’s older men who are veterans and things, and they’ll pull me close and they’ll be like, you have to beat him. And I’m like, okay, but you have to vote against him. And then, you know, then it’s like a different dynamic. But, you know, people don’t want to be embarrassed by their congressperson. And you should be able to watch Saturday Night Live and not have your congressman being made fun of. That should just be a basic tenet that you have as an American.
Taylor Popielarz: When you have conversations with other Democrats at the national level in Washington, people who aren’t from this part of Ohio, what are you explaining to them about what you’re learning works and doesn’t work in terms of Democratic outreach to a rural area?
Shannon Freshour: Well, I mean, I think that you need to do it on a multi-level approach. You need to meet people where they are and you need to meet them, you know, the pandemic sort of obviously changes the dynamic a little bit. So instead of not being able to door knock with people, we can still lit-drop. We can still make people feel comfortable that we’re around. And I think one of the really big things that we’re seeing is we’re seeing an enormous amount of support for Joe Biden and for the Democratic ticket all the way down the line. And we tell that to people everywhere we talk to, in county after county, in very red counties. Mr. Jordan and I debated yesterday in Auglaize County, which is presumed to be an incredibly ruby red district. We lost count, and I think we lost count after about 15 yard signs on one road through the St. Mary’s area where we were. And people are really, really proud of Joe Biden. They really want to vote for him. If you look at how people are voting right now, if you look at the numbers of voters, just from early voting yesterday, and the lines that are there today, people are excited to vote and they’re excited to vote for Joe Biden. And they’re excited to vote out Donald Trump. They’re excited to vote out Jim Jordan. They’re excited to vote out the drama and the chaos and they want grown-up leadership, and people who are actually going to take their concerns seriously. They’re going to take the pandemic seriously. They’re going take the job loss and the economic hit that we’ve all suffered seriously.
Taylor Popielarz: I’ve noticed your big Twitter presence, how many followers you’ve amassed on it. And I also noticed last month when you said that you’ve raised over a million dollars for this campaign — the first challenger to Jim Jordan to do so. I’m curious, because his Twitter presence is also massive, kind of like the president. He uses that as a messaging board. He’s also raised millions of dollars thanks to his national profile. Did you intentionally go to Twitter and has that been an intentional campaign tool to build up in the way that you’ve been —?
Shannon Freshour: It wasn’t necessarily at the start, but it sort of evolved that way. And the pandemic has helped a lot with that as well, because it’s a way to communicate with people. And I mean, I just happen to be like, sort of more vocal, and I could talk policies and things like that on Twitter. And so I try and do that. But people are really, really sick of Jim Jordan. You know, I’m, as a candidate, I’m really lucky that we’ve gotten support from people in all 50 states and military personnel across the globe. And I’m really, really honored that people are giving, and it’s almost exclusively a grassroots effort. And we have so many people in the district who are first-time donors to campaigns because they feel that there’s a chance to win, that they can make a difference. And I think that that’s one of the key things that’s different this cycle, than in the past. People are proud to be Democrats in a way, especially in this district, where they’ve been afraid to be Democrats, and they’ve been afraid to be out. You know, if you just look around this space, this is in the middle of a very conservative part of Allen County. But people are openly proud. People stop by when they see the door open and they’re like, I’d like — we had someone come in a few minutes ago and want a giant yard sign for his house. And those are the kind of things that we’re seeing. We’re seeing a run on signs constantly. And so those are really, people are really, for the first time, I think in a long time, openly proud to be Democrats, and openly proud to say I’m a Democrat, and to show their neighbors. And I think that’s one of the really big changes. But it’s also helping to have people who want to participate on Twitter and helping, people who want to donate to the campaign. And then it allows me to help elect as many Democrats as I can on a unified ticket because this is a time when you have to vote straight-party.
Taylor Popielarz: I’ve read your policy platform and I know what you’ve been campaigning on, but I’m curious as you’ve been interacting with voters, especially either undecided voters or maybe Republicans who are looking at a Democrat for the first time, what are the top two or three issues that you bring up with them to try to win them over?
Shannon Freshour: It’s a couple things. I think that the pandemic has, obviously, is the most important issue for everyone right now. But the pandemic also exacerbated and highlighted the most important issues that were plaguing Ohio in this district beforehand, which is health care access and affordability, which is job creation and education. And in that are things like rural broadband, which ties into schools, but it also ties into business. And so we talk a lot about that. But a lot of people just simply want the circus to end. And so for me, I spend a lot of time explaining to people that I think the most important thing that I can do first, if I were, you know, if I were to be so lucky to be elected, would be to reestablish a robust constituent services program, which will help communities be able to have a champion to help them fight for grant money to fix the roads and bridges or schools and things like that. But also, so if a veteran can’t get an appointment at the VA, he has someone where he can call and someone will fight for him. Or someone’s Social Security check is late or they can’t get Medicaid prescriptions or things like that, that they have someone fighting for them. And that to me is the really, really important part of the job that’s not being done.
Taylor Popielarz: I’m curious, I watched the debate — that was last night, right? — I watched the whole debate earlier today. And it was interesting to see you and the congressman interact. What he did, and it’s the same when I interview him on the Hill, he will paint the Democratic Party with a very broad brush. You’re labeled as the left and you are labeled as either trying to destroy a lot of things he cares about or to do a lot of things that he doesn’t. And when I was bopping around today, and I was stopping at places that had signs up for both parties, a lot of the people who had Jim Jordan or Trump signs up, they spoke exactly that way. And they said they loved that he was fighting for that for them. So I’m curious, how are you going about kind of explaining to people maybe you don’t fall into the ‘left of the left category’ that Republicans have been successful in painting a lot of Democrats as?
Shannon Freshour: And that’s true, but I think you be honest with people and you tell them what you believe. You know, you tell them that, unlike Mr. Jordan, I’m going to fight to protect Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. You know, in that debate yesterday, he simply lied. There’s no other way to say it. He said he was, you know, committed to protecting Social Security all of a sudden. And yet when he is in Washington, he’s trying to cut it constantly. He’s supported the president’s budget, which cuts $800 billion from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. You know, and you talk to people about the reality, because, you know — it’s easy to paint people with a broad brush if you don’t know them. It’s much harder to do it if you know them. And so, talking to people, we can find common ground. You know, I, as I said, I have experience working for, I think I put it in my bio at one point, that I may be the only person on the planet who worked for Ted Kennedy and Kellyanne Conway, before she was Kellyanne Conway. But that’s because I think that you try and find common ground and you learn how people think, and you learn, like, what motivates them, so that you can actually get something accomplished. And you can’t constantly paint people, or massive groups of people, as bad or evil if you’re going to try and actually get something done. If you’re committed to just throwing, you know, stuff into the gears so it stops the process, then that’s fine. But that doesn’t help anyone. Nobody is helped by that. So for me, it’s a lot of just talking to people and showing them that the lies that are told about me, the lies that are told about Democrats in general, aren’t true. You know, I mean, I think Joe Biden said it best when he said that I’m not like — you want to claim I’m a socialist who’s got a soft spot for rioters? Really? And he’s right. That’s it. I mean, it’s hard to make that argument if you know someone.
Taylor Popielarz: Would you label yourself a moderate?
Shannon Freshour: I’m probably, I think I’m center-left. But I’m much more, you know, interested in actually getting things accomplished and getting things done. There are too many problems in the world for us to simply just play partisan games all the time.
Taylor Popielarz: What do you say to voters in this district when, maybe they say to you in a conversation, I don’t agree with everything Jim Jordan does, but he’s been in D.C. for over a decade, he is a top Republican on a powerful committee, he has the president’s ear, that closeness to the institution is valuable to me. Why should I put somebody in office who would be starting from scratch?
Shannon Freshour: My first thing I would ask is how has it benefited you? How has it benefited anyone in our district? Has it gotten us better health care? Has it gotten us better roads? Has it helped people keep their jobs and their economy? It’s not. All he does is try and defend Trump. He literally at this point has a constituency of one person. And that really, I mean, it really comes across when he talks because all he talks about is the “Russia hoax,” which we know, bipartisanly, the Russians absolutely attempted to destroy our democracy. That’s what they do. And so it’s always constantly trying to defend those things, as opposed to trying to help people get health care.
Taylor Popielarz: You mentioned the Russia investigation. Congressman Jordan got a lot of attention throughout the impeachment process for his defense of the president. Had you been in the House during impeachment, would you have voted to impeach President Trump?
Shannon Freshour: Absolutely. You don’t sacrifice foreign policy for a political stunt to try and get reelected. You simply don’t do it. You don’t put people’s lives in danger. You don’t put soldiers’ lives in danger. And none of those things do you do that. It’s unconscionable.
Taylor Popielarz: If you were to be elected, would you want Nancy Pelosi to remain the leader of the Democratic Party in the House?
Shannon Freshour: Yes. There’s nobody who counts votes better than she does. I mean, the thing is, is that our party is at a crossroads, but Nancy Pelosi, if Joe Biden gets elected, won’t be the head of the party, Joe Biden will be the head of the party, and she’ll work with him. And so I think that that’s where, you know, there’ll be a whole different dynamic in Washington if the blue wave that we all expect comes through.
Taylor Popielarz: You’ve been back living in Ohio now for how long?
Shannon Freshour: A year and a half, almost two years.
Taylor Popielarz: A year and a half. And you said you spent about a dozen years in D.C. through school and all the various jobs you’ve had? Do you feel, or have you felt throughout the course of this race, that your time in Washington either helped you understand this district better or distanced you from understanding this district?
Shannon Freshour: I think what it did was help me understand that a bunch of the stuff that goes around with campaigns and how candidates can be viewed as yes people — how they can get yes people and they’re not told the truth, and they’re put in bubbles, is really, really damaging and dangerous for a person to be able to actually do their job. Because there’s this need to isolate the candidate or the politician from people, to protect them, to get them reelected, to make sure that they’re only in the right rooms and things like that. And that’s not the job. So I think that because I’ve seen that from the other side, from all of the other sides, that I know that that’s not what I want. And that’s not what I will accept.
Taylor Popielarz: So you don’t feel like you lost touch with home while you were in Washington?
Shannon Freshour: No. I’ve always been an Ohio girl. I mean, I’ve always been like, I’m an Irish Catholic girl from Central Ohio. That’s just what I am.
Taylor Popielarz: I’m curious, one because his campaign sign is behind you, I know Senator Brown has endorsed your candidacy. I cover him a lot, I speak with him at least weekly. And I also covered his dignity of work listening tour when he was considering running for president. And I’ve just spoken with him a lot about how he wins parts of Ohio that Republicans usually do well in.
Shannon Freshour: He does great in this district.
Taylor Popielarz: Yeah, and I’m curious what you’ve learned from him? Have you sought his counsel throughout this process?
Shannon Freshour: I have, because you know, you go to the best. If you have access to the best, I think that that’s, I mean, that should be true in anything you do. You know, in the law, we looked at the best people who understood the area of law or that area that we were working on. And Senator Brown has an ability to speak for working people that is unrivaled. You know, the fact that he talks about the dignity of work and making sure that every person who has a job has dignity in that job, and it brings dignity to them. And I think that is an extraordinary gift that he has. And it’s so much so that I actually saw an ad that Troy Balderson’s running where he was talking about the dignity of work as well, because it is, you know, it’s A) it’s a very powerful thing, but it’s also a very beautiful thing to ensure that every person is treated equally. That they are valued for their own efforts and for what they bring, as opposed to just being judged for not being enough.
Taylor Popielarz: I heard you bring up the dignity of work in the debate yesterday.
Shannon Freshour: It’s, you know, having done a lot of jobs that are considered undignified, you know, waitressing, cocktail waitressing, working as a staff assistant and things like that, those jobs are hard and they are the ones who keep working — they keep offices running, and they keep everything running. But we treat the principals as somehow having done it all themselves, and they don’t. And that’s what I really, really respect about Senator Brown’s message.
Taylor Popielarz: My last question for you, a pretty generic one. What has been the most surprising thing about this campaign for you?
Shannon Freshour: It’s all been surprising. But I think how well-received I’ve been — because I expected there to be, you know, we often hear about people, you know, where especially female candidates are called ‘baby killers’ or you know, ‘man-hating monsters’ and all of these things. And you know, all of the explicatives that we don’t talk about. And so everyone has treated me with the same respect that I think I try and treat everyone else with. So the fact that I haven’t been really attacked has been a blessing.
Taylor Popielarz: Is there anything else you want to add I haven’t asked you about?
Shannon Freshour: I don’t think so. I just want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to vote and they make a plan to vote. You know, even if they don’t vote for me, I just want to make sure that everyone votes.
Taylor Popielarz: Definitely. All right. Thanks so much.
Shannon Freshour: Excellent. Thank you for having me.