Mr. Brown’s bruising re-election battle made it difficult for him to establish the kind of presidential campaign infrastructure that others may already have, according to a Democratic strategist briefed on his campaign.
At the same time, he still has his Senate campaign staff on the payroll, affording him a cadre of operatives who could spring back into action.
And while Mr. Brown was strongly considered as a possible running mate to Hillary Clinton in 2016, he has made few attempts to project himself on the national stage. Come primary season, many possible rivals would have far greater name recognition, which could hinder his ability to draw media attention and raise money.
“I expect to see a number of people running as if this is the Kentucky Derby with 17 stalls to fill,” said Jerry Austin, a longtime Ohio political consultant who ran the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. “Would Sherrod benefit from a debate with 16 or 17 people? I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone benefits from that.”
But across Ohio, affection for their senator runs deep. Voters recall how he has long stood up for union workers. Party officials praise his ability to connect with everyday Ohioans.
“He comes back,” Joe Mudra, the chair of the Richland County Democratic Party, said before an event last month in Mansfield, a former manufacturing city that is also Mr. Brown’s hometown. Mr. Mudra fondly recalled playing pickup baseball in an apartment courtyard with Mr. Brown when they were young. Many in Mansfield still remember Mr. Brown’s mother, a civil rights-supporting teacher, and father, a doctor.
On Election Day, Mr. Brown beat his Republican opponent, Representative Jim Renacci, by six percentage points. It was a smaller-than-expected margin, but it came despite Mr. Trump’s last-minute appearance at a rally in Cleveland that seemed to buttress other Republican candidates. Mr. Brown also deflected decades-old abuse allegations related to a messy divorce from his former wife that Republicans have repeatedly tried to use against him. (His former wife, Larke Recchie, has publicly refuted the allegations and has supported Mr. Brown during his political career.)