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The Case for Rob Portman

Mention the name of former Ohio Congressman Rob Portman to any Republican party insider and you are likely to get an extended riff on his tremendous skills as a politician and operative.

Mention Portman's name to someone who doesn't live inside the Beltway or the former Congressman's home base of Cincinnati, however, and you are almost certain to be greeted with an unknowing shrug.

Portman, more so than any other candidate under serious consideration as John McCain's vice president, benefits (or suffers) from a clear divide between party insiders and average voters.

So, who is Portman really? And does he make sense as vice presidential pick? Today we make the case for McCain choosing Portman; tomorrow, we argue the opposite.

Establishment In Love

If Washington-based political operatives picked the vice president, Portman would have it hands down.

Portman is beloved on Capitol Hill and within the Bush Administration as that rare breed of politician who is equally conversant -- and skilled -- at policy and politics. (The Fix can attest to the rarity of that sort of politician; the only two who immediately jump to mind are Sen. Lindsey Graham and former governor Mark Warner.)

While Portman's status as the preferred candidate of Washington insiders isn't a great trait to have in a year in which voters are angry at the nation's capital and its residents, Portman's status among this group is more important than you might think.

The first obvious impact of picking Portman would be to quiet some of the whispers -- and even a few on-the-record comments -- from the permanent political class in Washington about the mistakes McCain is making in his campaign.

Because so many establishment Republicans have little love for McCain, they are far more prone to pop off to reporters -- comments that distract the campaign and subject it to process stories about dissent within its ranks. Having Portman on the ticket would silence many of McCain's critics and give the establishment something -- or someone -- to root for in the fall.

The second major benefit of a McCain-Portman ticket would be felt in the donor community. While Portman is unknown to most voters, during his years in Congress he represented an area that includes several of the biggest wheels in the Republican fundraising world -- Mercer Reynolds and Carl Lindner. Reynolds was the finance chairman of President George W. Bush's re-election bid; Lindner was a "Super Ranger" for Bush in 2004.

Both men are already supportive of McCain. But, having a native son on the ticket would almost certainly make Lindner and Reynolds more heavily invested (literally and figuratively) in the cause. And, in a fundraising environment where McCain is likely to be outspent at least two to one by Obama, every dime counts.

All About Ohio

The political class typically re-lives the last election when analyzing the next election. The 2008 race is no different.

Ohio became the center of the political universe in 2004 when Bush and Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) spent millions to identify, contact and turn out voters. The Bush campaign wound up doing its job slightly better; the incumbent won the Buckeye State by 117,000 votes (out of more than four million cast) and went on to win the presidency.

The state is again shaping up to be a key battleground -- if not thebattleground in the contest between McCain and Barack Obama., which aggregates polling data for the battleground states, puts Obama at 46 percent to 42 percent for McCain.

Given the primacy of Ohio to both sides' electoral calculus, putting Portman on the ticket gives McCain a potential leg-up in a contest that is very likely to go down to the wire.

While even Portman's most loyal allies acknowledge he is not a well-known presence statewide (southern Ohio and northern Ohio are different enough that they could well be separate states), they also dismiss the idea that he wouldn't help McCain in the state as the vice presidential runningmate.

One pro-Portman source pointed out that in 2004 Portman didn't get nearly the credit from the media that he deserved for helping deliver his home state to Bush. The source recounted that Portman spent months courting the key newspaper editorial boards around the state -- many of which were not initially interested in endorsing Bush -- and was ultimately successful in winning the majority of the major paper endorsements for his candidate. (The Cincinnati Enquirer and the Columbus Dispatch both endorsed Bush in that race while the Cleveland Plain Dealer, after supporting Bush in 2000, decided against an endorsement.)

The Great Debater

There's a reason that Portman was tasked to impersonate both former senator John Edwards (N.C.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) in mock vice presidential debates with Vice President Dick Cheney in 2004 and 2000, respectively.

He's a quick study (allies of Portman recall the former Ohio member studying audio tapes and DVDs of Edwards' debate tactics and mannerisms) who thinks fast on his feet.

As we've written before on The Fix, the importance of the vice presidential debate is often overlooked but shouldn't be. While it is not as as widely watched as the three presidential get-togethers, it has nearly as much ability to shape (or reshape) conventional wisdom in the contest.

"[Portman] can discuss policy in ways that are easily understood and he is able to convey technical policy concepts in a user-friendly way," explained one former Bush Administration official who is favorably inclined to the Ohio congressman. "In a debate environment he would be superb and I would not want to oppose him."

Assuming Obama's top-tier of vice presidential picks is accurately reported, both Sen. Joe Biden (Del.) and Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.) have significant debating experience (Gov. Tim Kaine is less of a known quantity). Either Bayh or Biden would be a formidable opponent in the vice presidential debate and Portman is one of only a few potential veeps -- former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is the other-- who is a proven debater and could likely stand toe to toe with anyone Obama might pick.

An Economic Wunderkind

The economy is certain to at the center of the debate this fall and, no matter what McCain does between now and then, he isn't likely to convince voters he knows the issue inside and out. (In McCain's defense, Obama struggled to win over voters who said the economy was the most important issue during his primary race against Hillary Rodham Clinton.)

Portman is a candidate who could fill that void for McCain, having had experience with budget and economic matters during both his time in Congress and during a stint as Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Bush Administration.

While in Congress, Portman served as the vice chairman of the House Budget Committee and was also a member of the high profile Ways and Means Committee, which writes all tax legislation for the country. (Worth noting: Portman generally got along well with then-Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas -- a feat in and of itself given the Californian's notoriously difficult personality.)

Portman, according to those who know him well, understands the ins and out of the budget and the economy as well if not better than most staffers -- a deep knowledge that makes him a huge potential resource for McCain both as a surrogate in places like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, where the economy is the only issue,but also behind closed doors as McCain continues to refine his plans and proposals on the issue.

National Stage Ready

Portman is the rare potential vice presidential candidate who has genuinely been vetted on the national stage. He was confirmed by unanimous consent in the Senate as U.S. Trade Representative in late April 2005 and, just over a year later, was confirmed again at OMB. (Portman resigned from OMB in June 2007, returned to practicing law in Cincinnati and confirmed he was considering running for governor in 2010.)

While being confirmed for USTR or OMB (God bless the government and its many acronyms!) isn't the same as the fine-toothed comb vetting Portman would endure if picked as vice president, it's a heck of a lot more than most of the candidates being considered can boast.

And, putting aside the vetting issue for a moment, it's hard to over-emphasize how big a leap it is from the House, Senate or even a governorship to the national ticket. It's an exponential jump in terms of media attention and scrutiny; Portman is aware of the challenge, having served in several Administration positions and would likely have less of a learning curve to get adjusted to the klieg lights of running for vice president than almost anyone else on the list.

Given the short time between the close of the Republican National Convention on Sept. 4 and Election Day (just 60 days) it's hard to imagine McCain picking someone as his running mate who is so new to the national stage that he (or she) takes the first 30 days to get acclimated to the role and its expectations. McCain, almost certain to be the underdog heading into the fall, needs someone who is, to borrow a phrase, ready on day one. Portman fits the bill.

Tomorrow: The Case Against Portman. Looking for past "cases for/cases against"? Look no further.

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 29, 2008; 7:05 AM ET
Categories:  Veepstakes  
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Next: Wag the Blog: Name that Veep


Portman would seal McCain's fate. His primary advantage is his age, but I can't see a lot of voters thinking he's qualified to take over as President.

He's got little constituency, but strong ties to Bush--not a great mix for McCain. And if he becomes McCain's attack dog, lots of voters are going to wonder about his legitimacy.

He may be able to spell "economics," but any creds he's got on it are only known inside the beltway. I don't see him in the top 20 of veep candidates.

Posted by: packman | July 30, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Fedex Ceo Fred Smith is now under consideration as McCain's VP...That is a great choice!

Posted by: Todd | July 29, 2008 10:52 PM | Report abuse

Chris, you didn't mention one of the most important aspects about Portman, which could save him from ultimately being eliminated - the fact that Portman has cited his frustration with the Bush administration's direction of fiscal irresponsibility as his reason for leaving his post as OMB after one year. That way he gets to claim executive experience while at the same time giving himself the credible distance from his ties with Bush.

Posted by: Justin | July 29, 2008 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Windy City: have you actually looked at the numbers for PA?

Posted by: DanPatrick | July 29, 2008 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Let me get this straight: a stint at OMB during an adminstration that went from budget surplus to deficit -- BEFORE the Iraq supplementals were counted -- is a PLUS?

I'm sorry, but the voodoo math that OMB has been practicing on the budget is no asset to anyone.

What do you think editorialists in the Buckeye state think of their decision to endorse Bush now? What kind of pull does Portman have with them after convincing them Bush deserved another term?

Portman may be the choice of Republican consiglieri. If so, it shows how far out of touch they are with the majority of the public.

Posted by: DanPatrick | July 29, 2008 4:38 PM | Report abuse

An Establishment guy who went around talking editors into supporting the Boy Emperor Dubya back in 2000?; doesn't sound like judgment to me! Dubya and Cheney, with Rove's help, have wrecked the Republican Party and it will take years to rebuild. Hell, Dubya and Dick were even disppointments to Poppy Bush. Poppy had the best men - James A Baker III and Brent Scowcroft, but George Schulz and Portman should have NEVER okayed Dubya - almost ruined the country and the world along with it.
No, McCain needs someone NOT connected to the Bush Admin. Not Romney - he's too much of the same B.S.
He needs a strong principled person like Powell, Hagel, or Bloomberg, or go for a woman like Carly Fiorina or Sarah Palin. Best Conservatives would be Fred Thompson, or Mike Huckabee.

Posted by: Big Red Geddies | July 29, 2008 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Still like Tom Ridge as the VP. A former popular Pennsylvania governor and congressman who won with huge majorities. He was the first head of the Department of Homeland Security and had the impossible task of bringing 22 government agencies together to protect Americans right after 9/11. He not only did the impossible, he did it very well and we have had no attacks on our soil since.

Ridge is a decorated war hero. He is a pro-choice Catholic but only in the cases of incest, rape, and danger to the health of the mother. This is a stance acceptable to most Republicans and Democrats and more importantly embraced by many independents. His choice would please probably give McCain-Ridge Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes. He had a reputation for balancing state budgets and being strong on crime. He was even well received by environmentalists.

McCain would hit a home run with Ridge as his choice for VP. Obama would be caught totally off-guard by a decorated war hero who is pro-choice and who won the Pennsylvania governorship with 57% of the vote. Not to mention the man who created from scratch the Department of Homeland Security. The American people would sleep soundly knowing Tom Ridge was second in command. He would be a bold and strategically brilliant choice.

Posted by: WindyCity | July 29, 2008 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Right on, the facts, Tarheel. Heavy drinkers and heavy smokers develop Alzheimers disease years earlier than people with Alzheimers who do not drink or smoke heavily, according to research that was presented at the American Academy of Neurology 60th Anniversary Annual Meeting in Chicago, April 12-19, 2008. Obesity and a family history also play important parts. McCain's background make him very unlikely to experience any problems. His mother's longevity, energy, and sharp intelligence at 96 years old is the most telling indication of how McCain will do in the years to come. The Obama hit squad needs to drop this line of attack. It's intellectually insulting.

Posted by: WindyCity | July 29, 2008 12:46 PM | Report abuse

By the way Bob, according to the Alzheimers Association, the World Health Organization, and Johns Hopkins Department of Biostatistics only about 14.7 percent of people worldwide over 85 have alzheimers, not 50%. The 50% figure is for risk of the disease if you are obese, a heavy smoker, a heavy drinker, or have a family history of alzheimers. When McCain's 96 year old mom starts showing some signs of slowing down I'll worry about him. Of course, he won't be president at 96, will he? Did you see where blacks have a 50% greater chance of early onset Alzheimers? Guess we need to be watching Obama, too.

Posted by: Tarheel | July 29, 2008 12:38 PM | Report abuse

the charade continues.....


a Hobson's Choice of false alternatives..

both proGovernment parties fighting over which "side" of the Government team gets to wield the evergrowing and everindebt Monster FedGov and Empire...

make the FedGov MORE "efficient" and "helpful" and to "fix" the marketplance.

with rules regulations and FDIC/HHS/DHS and FEMA cops and guns...

none of the "opponents" wants to get rid of the unConstitutional FedGov and interventionist and debt policies..only 'hack at the branches" like Thoreau said of their ilk back then....

and Americans had their chance to vote for freedom and REAL change - Ron Paul..

now they and we will get what we "seserve".

Posted by: Chris Bieber | July 29, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

I see OBama's attack dogs are out today.

Obamanuts, Obama's Kiddy corps, Cult of Obama members, and Obamarobots are the most vile vicious posters on the net.

They are now doing to McCain what they did to Hillary, and then they whine that Hillary supporters are not lining up behind their glorious leader.

You're a bunch of vile lying hypocrites, so please craw back under your rock, and be sure to drink the Kool Aiid when Obama tanks in November.

Posted by: William | July 29, 2008 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Like with Obama a lot of people want to be McCain's running mate.

McCain is likely to be a one term president putting his veep in position to be the GOP nod in 2012.

This is the year when everyone with future political ambitions wants to be the veep on either ticket.

Posted by: William | July 29, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

According to the National Institute of Health if John McCain were to be elected there is a significant chance he would develop Alzheimer's Disease and suffer dementia.
About 5 percent of people ages 65 to 74 have Alzheimer's Disease.
The rate increases dramatically to 50% in people 85 and older.

While in office, McCain would have a 15% chance of developing Alzheimer's and dementia and would be unable to perform the duties of President.

There are several tests to determine if someone has, or is developing the disease. McCain REFUSES to take the tests.

According to the NIH the tests include:
Tests to measure memory, problem solving, attention, counting, and language. Spinal fluid tests and brain scans. McCain released his medical records for a 4-hour period of time, would not let reporters make copies, or ask questions.

On the campaign trail McCain has made numerous verbal gaffes, including the need to refer repeatedly to cue cards to remember basic facts like the price of milk. He has spoken at length about countries that no longer exist. He has confused the borders of major countries.
And he gets angry quickly.

McCain could put the rumors to rest by taking a few tests. But he refuses. Why?

Posted by: Bob North Smithfield | July 29, 2008 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Brian Schweitzer, governor of MT, would be a much better pick than Kaine

He's approvals ratings are higher than Kaine's, he's more likeable and a better speaker, he has two more years experience as a governor, he speaks Arabic, he's knowledgeable when it comes to energy policy, has private sector experience, and he has a proven track record of working well with Republicans without being a complete patsy.

Unless he's got some big skeletons in his closet, Obama would be crazy not to pick him.

Here are some links of Schweitzer speaking. The first is a general discussion on how democrats can win in red states, the second a discussion on energy policy.

Posted by: PDM | July 29, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I think Portman would be a smart pick. His biggest downside is that, as USTR, he can easily be tied to the unpopularity of free trade in rustbelt states. But McCain is already "stuck" with that. John McCain is the most unapologetic advocate of free trade among all of this year's presidential candidates. He believes in the power of trade to fuel the US economy. Why not double-down on that conviction by picking a guy who knows more about trade than anyone else in the field?

Posted by: LESD | July 29, 2008 10:53 AM | Report abuse

My web page is It will explain a lot more than blog.

There is a bumper sticker out that says McCain Bush's 3rd term.

To counter this the republicans need some thing different.

It would behoove the GOP to go back to it's roots.

If they are to win what would balance the ticket? Old school McC, needs an exciting and different new school.

They need someone who can capture the hearts and souls of the middle. is the new republican!

Posted by: Dr. Daniel Muffoletto ND | July 29, 2008 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Lindsay Graham? LINDSAY GRAHAM? Sorry, Chris - the man's head is stuffed with cotton and he's in love with the sound of his own voice. The man likes to toot his horn about his military service, as if being an attorney in the Air Force reserves is akin to dealing with IEDs and mortar fire. If you think he's good at politics, you missed when a real warrior, Jim Webb, took him apart on MTP last year, almost making Lindsay cry.

If Rob Portman is like Lindsay Graham, God help the GOP.

Posted by: bondjedi | July 29, 2008 10:40 AM | Report abuse

The advantage of considering Portman is that he makes Pawlenty look dynamic and Romney look charismatic. McCain has really painted himself into a corner with these lackluster options.

Kaine seems likely to end up a close second in the Obama veepstakes. Bayh or Biden will most probably be the choices for their steadiness, knowledge, national name recognition and centrist positions.

Posted by: delta | July 29, 2008 10:35 AM | Report abuse


• Then the Buckeye Bushie becomes a default favorite

This election is shaping up to be a stark choice between "safe" and well-known and "untested" and unknown.

McCain already wins that contest.

Why would he pick a largely unknown Bush insider who reinforces the Obama "change Washington" mantra?

You are correct when you posit that the apparachik would be quite pleased with Portman as veepee.

(Indeed, I'm not convinced that there's not a movement underway to put Portman on the top of the ticket -- after McCain is forced to withdraw due to further revelations about his medical conditions.)

But assuming McCain's presumptive nomination is ratified at the convention, Portman brings little of political value to a candidacy that's already demonstrating its stubborn resiliency at a time when Obama should be far, far ahead.

That, of course, assumes that the election will be decided by an accurate vote count. Given the pervasiveness of electronic voting and the lack of a voter-verified paper trail in most precincts, that could be an unwarranted assumption.


Posted by: scrivener | July 29, 2008 10:11 AM | Report abuse

sorry not enough coffee this morning...

meant to say...

and don't be ffoled (obviously I don't think you are because you are looking at Portman)

the "Kaine thing" is being pushed last night and this morning by every republican pundit out there...

they want it to be Kaine.

Hopefully Obama is listening to WHO is saying it should be "Kaine for Obama".

Kristol, Mike (what's his name...McCain's old campaign chair), romney's old campaign chair... etc... all under the guise of "oh we hope he doesn't pick HIM...oh my goodness...he challenges Virginia"

these guys aren't stupid... they know how Kaine would hold up against a Ridge Romney even a Pawlenty or a Portman in a national debate... hopefully Obama's selection team is one step ahead.

Posted by: dl | July 29, 2008 10:00 AM | Report abuse

and don't fool yourself

the Kaine thing is being pushed last night and this morning by every republican pundit out there...

they want it to be Kaine.

Hopefully Obama is listening to who is saying it should be and the it "will be" kaine.

Kristol, Mike (what's his name...his old campaign chair) romney's old campaign chair...

these guys aren't stupid... hopefully obama's team isn't also.

Posted by: dl | July 29, 2008 9:51 AM | Report abuse

I think Chris it all depends on Obama's choice... and I think you are right somewhat only becasue now the debates are showing to be a much more important event and assured an upcoming "tool"in this election...including, maybe even especially believe it or not, the VP debate because of the newness factor it will infuse this long hard boring tedious drawn out ...back and forth...
By bringing in the two dimensions to these candidacies that we haven't seen ...essentially bringing a whole new dimension to this 2 year long debate...

If Obama picks Kaine...McCain will feel comfortable picking the one he wants to Ridge.

Because the VP debate will bare out highly in Mccain's favor matter what
and Ridge would trash Kaine leaving all the republicans who hate Ridge to just vote for Ridge anyway along with independents.

If he picks someone more seasoned it gets challenging...

I see if Obama picks could be Portman or Romney. If it turns to economics both these guys have a milktoast factor...but with Portman's background and Bayh's kind of lackluster and smarmey debating style... Portman would win.
and it might even work with a HIlllary choice.

It is simply going to be based on does Obama make a stupid choice (i.e. picking an unknown inexperienced vp that doesn't have any judgement to base things on and no national debating skills to speak of) or a "familiar choice.

a Hillary ...a Biden... a Bayh.

I stillt hink obama is smart enough to want the smartest guy as his matter what the bologne people put forward say...

Posted by: dl | July 29, 2008 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Chris of the Fix...stick to the reasons for Rob Portman as VP. This piece seems to be interwoven with both reasons as to why he should and why he shouldn't be McCain's VP.

McCain's choice for VP will be based on what Obama does. McCain has already demonstrated that he will let Obama lead and he will follow. Portman is potentially a good choice for McCain if Obama picks someone like Kaine who is not a versed on the workings of Washington.

Posted by: Obama-Junkie | July 29, 2008 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Not sure why Portman "fits the bill" as a candidate who won't need time getting up to speed more than any of the other names being bandied about. He WOULD require an enormous effort to achieve name recognition. Also, if McCain is taking public financing, how does Portman's alleged fund-raising prowess help?

McCain is starting to look like he is in serious trouble, even with Republicans. He needs a home-run and Portman looks like a sacrifice bunt (although that might be better than Romney who would represent a nearly automatic forfeit of the race were McCain to be persuaded to put him on the ticket).

Probably depends upon who the old guy is listening to. when he listens to his own gut, he often comes up with startling conclusions. when he listens to the people who are supposed to be "helping" him, he sputters and spins and sounds less than authentic. He needs a high-profile candidate who can introduce new energy into the campaign--someone who quite possibly isn't even born yet.

Posted by: dch | July 29, 2008 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Looks like the case against Portman will be:

- Nobody has heard of him. He's served one year apiece in two appointed positions which are invisible to the voters. His announcement as VP will be met by yawns and blank stares around the nation.
- He ties McCain further to Bush, specifically to Bush's economic policy. The guy in charge of US trade policy is going to talk economics to people in depressed factory towns?
- He's never campaigned for anything bigger than a House district.
- He's not qualified to be President, if something happens to McCain. This is a minor issue, because the VP isn't supposed to be as good as the Presidential candidate, but I'm sure it will be mentioned.
- He doesn't bring a defined group of voters with him. And no, Beltway insiders and Republican money men aren't groups of voters.

Portman would be a weird choice as VP, simultaneously bold and boring. I don't see him helping McCain much.

Posted by: Blarg | July 29, 2008 9:08 AM | Report abuse

Just how is "experience with budget and economic matters during both his time in Congress and during a stint as Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Bush Administration" a positive?

At least he'd fit right in with the McCain "more of the same" team.

Posted by: FlownOver | July 29, 2008 9:05 AM | Report abuse

How about Peter King from NY ?

VJ Machiavelli

Posted by: VJ Machiavelli | July 29, 2008 7:56 AM | Report abuse

The case for Portman is exactly the case against him. His party and insider cred makes him unappealing in this era of "change." And his ties to the Bush administration would be ripe for a Dem attack.

Posted by: matt | July 29, 2008 7:39 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the breadth of the overview. I did not know about his debate prowess. If Portman can allow McC to regain his happy warrior status and lose the "bitter old man" sour look, he would be worth picking.

I did know that he was probably capable of being prez, the first qualification.

You did not tell about McC's history with Portman, if any. Do they know each other? Do they get along?

Posted by: MarkInAustin | July 29, 2008 7:38 AM | Report abuse

I dont care who mccain picks.

Losers will never prosper

Posted by: pvogel88 | July 29, 2008 7:26 AM | Report abuse

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