Huntsman Is Latest to Pay Rob Portman a Call

Huntsman Is Latest to Pay Rob Portman a Call

By Erin McPike - May 18, 2011

Jon Huntsman became the latest GOP 2012 hopeful to pay Ohio Sen. Rob Portman a visit when he dropped by the former OMB director's office Tuesday afternoon.

After 20 months abroad as U.S. ambassador to China, Huntsman has been busy meeting with members of Congress and seeking their advice as he prepares to launch a bid for the White House. It's a standard practice -- these meetings are often set up so the White House hopeful can begin to court the senator or congressman for an endorsement, which can translate into primary-election votes later. With Portman, the goal is a little bit different, even though the first-term senator noted of the current Republican field, "There's an opening for somebody."

In an interview Tuesday, he said, "I'm not going to endorse anybody until we're in the process." He was intimating that he would wait until there is a nominee to endorse, in part because the Buckeye State's primary comes so late.

"Where Ohio really comes into play is the general election," he said, adding, "I want to go into the general election not having played favorites."

What Portman is doing, however, is helping the serious candidates meet with his constituents and schooling them on Ohio's political terrain -- if they want the lesson. He can also introduce them to Ohio's large base of corporate donors, who are heavily concentrated in Cincinnati, which Portman represented in the House for about a dozen years.

And on a statewide level, his campaign team spent countless hours poring over an Ohio jobs plan in last year's Senate election, and he's sending that to any candidate who asks for it.

"I'm not sending it to everybody," he said. "I'm sending it to everybody who I have an e-mail address for." He and an aide joked that that means the "legitimate candidates" -- in other words, Donald Trump never got a copy.

"I speak to Romney, I speak to Pawlenty," he said, referring to two of the current leading establishment candidates, former Govs. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota.

"Pawlenty's been in twice for me since the campaign," he said, explaining that the Minnesotan spoke to his donors and appeared at a fundraising breakfast.

He also said he's in touch with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels but doesn't know if he will run. Portman and his wife, Jane, watched on C-SPAN as Daniels' wife, Cheri, spoke to the Indiana Republican Party on Thursday night.

And it was at Portman's request that Daniels made a rare, out-of-state political visit during this year's legislative session in Indiana when he spoke to the Lincoln Day Dinner in Portman's home base of Hamilton County.

"I owe Mitch -- not just for coming in for me during the campaign," he said, joking that he stole Daniels' idea to campaign around his state in an RV.

Portman also has an e-mail dialogue with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in which the two talk policy. Indeed, Portman is universally viewed by Senate leadership as being perhaps the deepest thinker and most able of the expansive class of freshmen senators, not least because of his time running the Office of Management and Budget and his earlier leadership role in the House. Already he's been a key player in the debt and budget talks in Congress this year.

Politically, Portman is a powerhouse, too. He was Karl Rove's top lieutenant in Ohio in 2004 and barnstormed the state for President Bush. In his own Senate election against Democrat Lee Fisher last year, he banked $16.5 million. While Republican John Kasich ousted then-Gov. Ted Strickland by just two percentage points in 2010, Portman demolished Fisher by more than 17 points.

And Portman has long been discussed as an Ohio pol whose skills could make him attractive nationally. Early on in 2008, he was whispered about as high on Arizona Sen. John McCain's list of potential running mates. Last year, Democrats complained that he was trying to run the best Senate campaign in the country because he was auditioning for bigger things.

It's not surprising, then, that at least one serious presidential campaign team views Portman as possible vice presidential timber -- nor is it surprising that all of the camps want his help.


Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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