Will It Be Portman?
The Ohio senator’s presser feeds the buzz.

Senator Rob Portman (R., Ohio)


Robert Costa

Unsurprisingly, Portman’s views on non-veep matters were more instructive than his cryptic words about the November ticket. Every four years, potential vice-presidential nominees scramble to define their record before the press or critics define it for them. They give speeches, interviews, or press conferences in support of a cause (in Portman’s case, the New Hampshire GOP). They also must field a host of queries about their career, and Portman did exactly that here in the state capital, speaking at length about his work for the George W. Bush administration. He served in two Cabinet-level posts for Bush 43, including budget director from 2006 to 2007. His budget tenure has dogged him throughout the veep season, and many Washington observers see it as his biggest liability. Indeed, the idea that the “Bush gig” is Portman’s biggest downside has calcified into conventional wisdom. On Saturday, Portman took care to defend his record at the Office of Management and Budget, talking up his push for a balanced budget and his efforts to make data about congressional earmarks available online. Near the end of the presser, a journalist asked Portman whether his OMB days will make Romney wary of selecting him. “I don’t know,” he said. But any fiscal hawk who examines his record, he argued, shouldn’t have a problem with it. “I served at a time when we had a strong economy, when we had deficits that we would die for today. I was able to propose a balanced budget, not over ten years, but over five years. . . . I’m proud of that record.”

Portman also defended the Romney campaign’s senior team, which has come under fire in recent days for how it handled Romney’s follow-up to the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare. He brushed aside the rising frustration on the right about the campaign’s operation. “There has never been a campaign where there hasn’t been sniping from the outside and second-guessing,” he said. “I hear the same sometimes from the Democratic side in terms of President Obama’s campaign, so that’s to be expected.” It is “ridiculous,” he added, for conservatives to call Romney’s position on health care a variation on the president’s policy. Midway through the press conference, and without prompting, he boosted Romney, touting the former governor’s “aggressive” opposition to Obamacare. Portman called the Massachusetts health-care program a “very different law” from the federal health-care statute. “One is at the state level, and one is at the federal level,” he continued, calling the difference an important political distinction. On whether Obamacare’s “penalty” is a tax, he echoed Romney’s comments to CBS News last week: “It’s not up to me. It’s up to the Supreme Court, and it’s a tax.”

For the rest of the presentation, Portman focused on what he talks about every day on Capitol Hill: jobs. As he often does on the stump, he spoke about his late father, Bill Portman, who founded Portman Equipment Company a half-century ago after graduating from Dartmouth. “My family comes out of that background,” he said, touching the shoulder of the man to his left, Steve Duprey, who owns the Courtyard Marriott and serves as a Republican committeeman. “My father left his job as a salesman to start his own business,” Portman said as Duprey nodded. “There is so much uncertainty out there, and the government in Washington doesn’t seem to get it.” What’s needed, he said, is a “new business environment” bolstered by pro-growth policies. And about those Bain attacks? Portman was incredulous: “I frankly wonder why the Obama campaign wants to talk so much about [Romney’s] private-sector experience.”


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