As the Olympics wind down, the Republican Veepstakes speculation is building to a crescendo, with an announcement expected any day.
Here in Southern Ohio, home of Rob Portman, there is more than a bit of hometown pride associated with the mention of our junior senator on Romney’s shortlist. From 1992 to 2004, Portman won seven consecutive congressional elections in Ohio district 2, with over 70% of the vote, including the vote of many Democrats like me. Since meeting Rob and his wife at a small house party during his first campaign, I was comfortable that despite my disagreement with him on a variety of issues, he would honorably and competently represent all his constituents. And for 12 years, that is what he did.
While Republicans have held onto his seat in the elections that followed his departure to work in the Bush administration in 2005, the victory margins narrowed, and the quality of our representation, in my opinion, declined significantly. The defeat of Representative Jean Schmidt in her primary this year suggests that many District 2 voters agree with me.
Portman’s experience since 2005 has fleshed out and polished his VP resume to perfection: U.S. Trade Representative, director of the Office of Management and Budget and now, senator. He was mentioned as a possible VP choice for McCain in 2008, and there are a number of reasons he would be the best possible vice presidential candidate for Romney:
The case for Romney’s election is rooted in competence and business success, attributes reinforced by Portman’s life story and experience, both in business and in government. His solid conservative voting record and credentials would shore up Romney’s lukewarm support among the Republican base. But at the same time, Portman is dyed-in-the-wool genuine Midwestern nice, and unlikely to alienate or offend any right-leaning swing voters. Hello … Ohio? There may be little evidence that a VP candidate can actually deliver a state, but Ohio is a must-win for Republicans. Portman can do nothing but help Romney in Ohio. I may disagree with virtually everything Portman believes, but he is a decent and honorable man, who would never embarrass himself or our country – unlike some past vice presidential nominees, and some being mentioned now (uh, Chris Christie).
In short, Portman would be a safe, solid, sensible pick, with the possible benefit of delivering a few votes in a crucial state. But here’s why he won’t be the nominee:
Bush Baggage: The GOP needs this election to be about the future, not the past. It’s too soon to look with any perspective at the disaster that was 2000-2008, and Portman was a part of that mess. His long-standing close ties to the Bush family would provide fodder for the Democratic Super PACs and resonate with many centrist Southern Ohio voters. It’s what ended my string of Portman votes when he ran for the Senate office he holds today. The flip side of the inoffensive coin is, let’s face it, boring. When Portman introduced Romney at a recent Cincinnati appearance, the talking heads quipped that the party had found a way to make Romney look charismatic. Tim Pawlenty has many of the same qualifications as Portman, with the addition of executive experience as a governor, better name recognition and no Bush baggage. If boring white guy is the direction they want to go, my money’s on Pawlenty.
But as this process drags on and the pundits speculate endlessly, you can almost smell the testosterone, and feel the resistance to making the safe and sensible choice. Every candidate feels the pressure to name a running mate worthy of the frenzy of speculation, and I don’t think Romney is an exception. This year’s Republican vice presidential nominee will be more ready for prime time than Sarah Palin; they’ve learned that lesson. But I don’t think Rob Portman needs to sit by the phone.