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Former Ohio congressman Tim Ryan jumps back into national fray, launches new group

Former congressman Tim Ryan is returning to politics — just not as a candidate — at least for the moment.

Ryan, an Ohio Democrat whose unsuccessful 2022 Senate race drew support from Democrats across the country, is launching a new national advocacy group this week called "We the People," aimed at organizing voters who feel exhausted by partisan politics.

Presidential Candidates Attend Gun Safety Forum In Des Moines
File: DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 10: Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) (L) speaks on stage during a forum on gun safety at the Iowa Events Center on August 10, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. Stephen Maturen / Getty Images

For Ryan, who briefly ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2019, it's a jump back into the national fray on his own terms, giving him a vehicle for traveling the country and connecting with voters, particularly those who are frustrated both with Washington and with the political movement led by former President Donald Trump.

In an exclusive interview with CBS News, Ryan said his efforts in the coming year will be focused solely on convening policy events and on promoting an inclusive, pro-democracy dialogue among voters, rather than on laying the groundwork for a political campaign.

"There is an exhausted majority in the country, and they feel like they don't have any political home at all," Ryan said, describing his target audience as those who have been "checking out."

"That's maddening because that gives a bigger voice to those forces of division and hate and anger, so we want to build an organization that welcomes these people to participate," he said.

Ryan sketched out a plan for inviting disengaged voters to forums where nonpartisan success stories from the local community are highlighted, rather than partisan messages.

"It's going to be very, very practical and very pragmatic and we just want to elevate the conversation and welcome people in," Ryan said.

Still, Ryan said his group will not be soft in tackling challenges to democracy even as it pushes sunnier themes.

"We will also take a strong and hostile position against these forces of hate and anger and fear and division in the country," Ryan said. "That's the only way for us, in my estimation, for us to allow all of this greatness happening in the country to be able to bloom and to grow."

Ryan said his group will be distinct from others with centrist leanings, such as No Labels, because he does not have any interest in exploring whether a bipartisan or independent ticket could be launched in the months before the 2024 presidential election. And he said that he is not exploring a late entry into the Democratic presidential race.

"I'm a Democrat," Ryan said. "I will continue to be a Democrat. But that doesn't mean that the entire political system isn't broken, you know? It's broken across the board and the fact that we have a MAGA movement in the country illustrates, pretty clearly, that here is a corrosion to our political system and solely having political fights won't heal that."

"We're not getting involved in presidential politics, to a certain extent," he added. "We want to actually build a sustainable organization that's citizen-powered."

Ryan, who is 50 years old, does not rule out another run for office in the coming years. We the People, which will announce board members in the coming days, is being informally advised by veteran political strategist Steve Schmidt, who rose to fame for his work on the late Republican Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and has since become a fervent critic of Trump and in 2020 announced he had become a Democrat.

In 2022, Ryan was defeated by Republican Sen. J.D. Vance in Ohio's hotly contested Senate race. He left Congress earlier this year after serving two decades in the House representing the struggling industrial region of northeastern Ohio, which includes Youngstown.

We the People, Ryan said, will soon bring attention to issues he has long spotlighted, such as reviving American manufacturing, energy, and veterans' care, among others.

Ryan's latest venture is in line with a career that has been an unusual political brew. His relationship with fellow Democrats has been tumultuous. In the House, he had an outsider streak and clashed with the leadership. In the early weeks of the 2020 Democratic primary race, he questioned whether now President Joe Biden had the energy needed to beat Trump, but eventually endorsed Mr. Biden and become a vocal supporter.

And Ryan, though known as an affable, if blunt, former high-school quarterback from working-class Ohio, has also built a reputation as someone who is eager to explore concepts of mindfulness, cooperation, and civility in American public life.

In 2012, he published "A Mindful Nation," a book about how he began meditating after the 2008 election. Ryan's group — created as a nonprofit 501(c)4 organization under the tax code — has been filed under the name "We the People 250 Action Fund," a nod to the nation's upcoming 2026 commemoration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Due to its tax status, it will not make endorsements of candidates.

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