Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) speaks at a GOP rally at the Farm and Home Center… (Dan Marschka / Lancaster…)
Ohio’s junior senator, Rob Portman, is partisan but not combative, youthful but not inexperienced, and a world traveler who also knows his way around Washington.
A reliable social and fiscal conservative who has environmentalist credibility as a former board member of the Nature Conservancy, he's been an international trade lawyer, a member of a presidential Cabinet and a diplomat. He has kayaked both the Yangtze River in China and the House pool.
But maybe the most salient aspect about Portman as Mitt Romney zeroes in on a running mate is this: He is a well-liked native son of a battleground state that could easily make the difference between success or failure in November. How well liked is he? Put it this way: In his House races, he never got less than 70% of the vote.
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Though he has a reputation for blandness, Portman, 56, can go for the jugular when he needs to. A practiced debater, he honed his skill posing as Democrats in presidential and vice-presidential debate prep sessions for George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and John McCain.
"It's easier being mean as a Democrat," Portman explained last month in an interview at a Romney call center in Kenwood, near Cincinnati.
From 1993 to 2005, Portman served his suburban Cincinnati district as a member of the House of Representatives, and was plucked early on in his tenure by then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert to serve as the chamber's Republican liaison to the administration of George W. Bush. It was a natural choice. Portman’s ties to the Bush family go back to 1980 when he worked as an advance man for George H.W. Bush. In the first Bush White House, Portman served as an associate counsel and the president's chief lobbyist.
In the second Bush administration, he served as U.S. Trade Representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget, both for about a year.
In an interview with The Times in July, he said he welcomed the opportunity to defend his Bush-era record, which would certainly be a point of attack for Democrats. "I was proud of my service, and the economy was doing a lot better then," Portman said.
But just last week, he seemed to distance himself from what many conservatives see as the fiscal irresponsibility of the George W. Bush era. He told The Hill that he was "frustrated" during his time as budget director. "I wanted to offer a balanced budget over five years, and a lot of people didn't ... . It was a fight, internally."
A frequent campaign trail surrogate for Romney, Portman visited Kenwood to fire up Romney volunteers, who warmly greeted him and his wife, Jane. The Portmans, who have three children, live in Terrace Park, a suburb just outside Cincinnati. He has always commuted to Washington.
After his speech, Portman shook hands with Alec Brockmeier, a financial advisor from nearby Glendale. "When Rob was a freshman congressman, newly elected," Brockmeier said, "I told him, 'One day, you're gonna be president.'"
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