With Mitt Romney saddling up to take on Barack Obama the November, rampant speculation regarding which politician will complete the Republican bumper sticker has begun. Democrats watch in hopes that the Romney camp chooses someone that Joe Biden can handle, while Republicans are crossing their fingers that the vice presidential nominee can help Romney connect with the proverbial average American.
Among Romney's "short list candidates" is the underwhelming, yet consistent, Rob Portman, the current junior senator from everyone's favorite swing state, Ohio. Senator Portman has been an outspoken supporter of Romney since endorsing him back in January, calling Mitt "a lifelong leader who has shown how to bring people together to turn around tough situations." Romney reciprocated by calling Portman "a leader in the fight for a balanced budget" who he hoped to work with to make the government "simpler, smaller, and smarter.”
Portman spent 12 years in the House of Representatives, leaving in 2005 for stints in the Bush cabinet as the U.S. Trade Representative and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. He has even played the role of a Democrat in mock debates with Republicans preparing to faceoff against their political counterparts. He has now settled into the Senate, coming seemingly out of nowhere to insert himself into the VP contest.
At first glance, Senator Portman passes the smell test for a vice presidential candidate. He is decidedly "un-Palin," having a breadth of experience that Sarah Palin lacked when she got the VP nod in 2008. His policies are consistent and uncontroversial for conservatives, labeling job creation and economic growth as his "top priority," and advocating the standard "repeal and replace" line for President Obama's health care reform. He has even suggested reforming "the whole tax code," though this is the policy equivalent of a student body president offering free soda once elected — it probably won't happen.
As a progressive-minded independent, Portman does little to steer me away from tossing my hat in the ring for President Obama this fall. A lot like Romney, Portman reeks of been-there-done-that for those of us sitting on the fence. To his credit, he has shown a bipartisan proclivity, leading the SMART Act initiative with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) to improve the Medicare Secondary Payer program. But given the VP's largely symbolic role, I have no reason to believe Portman can persuade Romney to reach across the aisle.
Additionally, Portman is an obvious choice to improve Romney's chances in the always-crucial Ohio, but Portman's low profile may cancel out any potential benefit. While I cannot speak for the majority of Ohioans, as a native of the Akron-Cleveland area where a large portion of the population is concentrated, I can confidently say that Portman hardly makes voters swoon when his name comes up. Outside Ohio, choosing Portman seems more likely to make undecided voters shrug their shoulders than raise their fists to support the GOP candidates.
The odds of Portman's nomination seem to be rising, but from my perspective the Romney camp could be sorry if they go for the safe pick of Portman. In spite of his consistent and reasonable conservative stances, Portman lacks the charisma that the GOP could desperately use leading up to November. Regardless of who Romney chooses, I'm willing to bet the presidential race will be a mostly tiresome and occasionally fascinating contest. Hell, I'd even bet 10,000 bucks on it.