Most presidential candidates choose a running mate who can balance out a fault. John F. Kennedy selected Lyndon Johnson to acquire the Southern vote, while George W. Bush picked Dick Cheney to negate his foreign policy inexperience. This year, Mitt Romney’s biggest weakness is Ohio. The state is arguably the electoral college’s most important; no Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying it in November.
One of the former Massachusetts governor’s strongest potential assets lies in the Buckeye State as well. Its junior senator, Rob Portman, is a boring and wonky technocrat. But his loyalty to conservatives just might equalize accusations of Romney’s moderate views and create the one-two team that Republicans need. And his fundraising ability in his home battleground state could give what will likely be the most expensive election in American history a bold shade of red.
It’s a full two months until the Republican National Convention in Tampa. But one Republican official, requesting anonymity, told The Hill in April that the wingman-less Romney is taking a head-start look at Portman, among other candidates, to finish off his White House ticket and maximize donation potential. While the John McCain camp was more adventurous in selecting Sarah Palin as their number two in 2008, the insider added that Romney is a careful thinker who has learned from that blunder.
“It’s going to be a very deliberate process and he’s going to come up with a very high-quality selection,” the insider wrote. “When you’re a business executive, you’re used to recruiting.”
Husband-and-wife team Steve and Cokie Roberts reinforced Portman’s potential role in the Romney campaign. They wrote a nationally syndicated piece for United Media newspapers last Sunday:
“He will never claim to see Russia from his house in Cincinnati,” said Mr. and Mrs. Roberts. “More important, he is completely qualified to serve as president, perhaps even more qualified than Mitt Romney.”
Both the Obama campaign and Democrats in the two congressional chambers have yet to single out Portman from Marco Rubio, the Florida Senator running a close second in the vice presidential running. Liberals and moderates fear that such an interference would be premature. And since presidential candidates typically appoint their running mates within just a week of their respective conventions, perhaps it is early for such an attack. But after a few difficult weeks – of disappointing poll stats, second-place fundraising, high unemployment, and one gut-wrenching recall election defeat – Democrats cannot afford to hesitate in attacked their presumed adversary.
The 56-year-old Portman could also ground Romney’s self-proclaimed entrepreneurial persona. He spent his childhood in Cincinnati, watching his father’s forklift dealership surge in staff size – from six to over 300. Though he is only in his first Senate term, his sharp Republican presence overtakes that of the 40-year-old Rubio. Many of his financial backers are retired Americans who feel that healthcare privatization is a major campaign priority. And his conservative voting record matches that message.
Portman also has an impressive record with raking in campaign dollars nationwide. Nearly half of his 2010 campaign’s donations came from out of state, and he has an even deeperhistory of fundraising in battlegrounds like Florida and Virginia.
Before acquiring his current office, Portman was appointed President Bush’s U.S. Trade Representative in 2005 and began a stint as his budget director the following year. Since both cabinet positions were Senate-confirmed, he has already faced Capitol Hill scrutiny. Selecting him would still carry its share of controversy, of course – that is only expected in a vice presidential pick – but he would probably not distract voters the way Rubio’s involvement could.
The campaign trail is familiar territory for Portman. He has never lost an election and often plays the devil’s advocate role when helping his Republican colleagues prepare for highly publicized debates. After a training session four years ago with John McCain, he channeled his adversary so well, one Republican aide exclaimed, “Portman just annihilated our guy!”
Obama strategists hope that campaign funds will surge in the next few months. But to do so, they must take a tip from the Portman rulebook – understand the opposition and centralize their target on the man who will likely be the Mitt Romney’s right-hand, right-wing man.