The Corner

The Veepstakes

According to Maggie Haberman at Politico, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio is “the name on the lips of most GOP strategists.”

Instead, it’s Portman who is seen as rising in the early betting — not that the only vote who counts, Romney, has weighed in — because, as one operative put it, he could “step into the [presidency] on Day One.” The Ohio senator is also a conservative and comes from a key state. Despite his connection to the George W. Bush presidency — which would turn off some tea party voters — he is also seen as someone who could handle budgets as a former Office of Management and Budget director.

On the other hand, there is a downside to Portman — he could be too safe. With his ties to the Washington establishment and the Bush White House, and the same fiscal policies that a swath of voters have denounced, he may have trouble delivering the “businessman, not a politician” message that Romney is trying to convey.

In the new issue of National Review, Portman discusses his rise. 

Portman, a 56-year-old father of three, grew up in Cincinnati, the son of Bill and Joan Portman. Bill, a Cincinnati native, studied chemistry at Dartmouth and earned his degree in 1946 after serving in the Army infantry. A year later, still at Dartmouth, he took a master’s degree in business. Returning home, he went to work as a salesman but soon became restless. 

Bill Portman “had a commission working for him, health care, a retirement plan,” and a growing family, his son recalls. “But he wanted to strike out and do his own thing. He is sort of the classic World War II veteran — optimistic about his future and his ability to create something from scratch. So he did it.” Bill Portman founded Portman Equipment Company, a forklift dealership, in 1960. 

The business was not profitable during its early years. “My dad did everything he could,” Portman says. “It was a start-up and the banks didn’t want to lend him enough money, so he mortgaged our house.” Portman’s mother, the company’s bookkeeper, helped her husband secure a loan from her family, which owned and operated the Golden Lamb, Ohio’s oldest hotel. 

Regarding that milquetoast tag, I don’t buy it. Portman may be a soft-spoken fellow, but he’s also an outdoorsman with a competitive streak.

When Portman drove to Dartmouth in 1974, following in his father’s footsteps, he was interested in history and politics. During high school, when he wasn’t playing second base for Country Day’s baseball team, he had consumed political periodicals and newspapers and developed a deep interest in national affairs. “But I wasn’t a Democrat or a Republican,” he says. “No one in my family had ever been in politics. My dad thought it was something that got in the way.” 

Once he arrived in Hanover, N.H., Portman’s interests drifted beyond politics. He switched majors twice, eventually settling on anthropology. He was an able student, but most days he was on the water or on the ski slopes, not cooped up in the library. In 1977, he and three friends kayaked the entire length of the Rio Grande — 1,900 miles. It took him five years to graduate. 

National Review Digital subscribers can read the whole thing here.

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