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Does Portman Have the Edge in VP Sweepstakes?

Does Portman Have the Edge in VP Sweepstakes?

By Erin McPike - May 23, 2012


Rob Portman has been preparing for this for years.

Although the Ohio senator offers the standard line that he doesn't expect to be picked as Mitt Romney's running mate, the trajectory of his career and his political conduct in Washington have made nearly everyone in politics almost certain that he’ll be plucked for this year's Republican presidential ticket.

Bob Paduchik, a veteran consultant who ran George W. Bush’s re-election effort in Ohio as well as Portman’s Senate campaign in 2010, bottom-lined it: “Rob Portman is uniquely qualified to do the job on Day One. I can’t think of another candidate who’s as qualified as Rob Portman.”

And that is because Portman has had a wealth of impressive jobs: congressman, U.S. trade representative, George W. Bush’s budget director and now senator. He’s also a lawyer -- even serving as associate counsel in the White House in the early 1990s -- and has been a small business owner.

“Rob is definitely special,” Paduchik said. “He’s like an infielder that can go right and go left: He works hard at the politics. But he’s also got that understanding of government. I’ve always thought of him as exceptional.” And that’s why Paduchik, who swears that he’s retired from campaign politics, decided to run Portman’s Senate race after hitting a high point as Karl Rove’s man in the Buckeye State in 2004. In 2010, he says, “I didn’t do that because I wanted to go do a Senate campaign. I did it because he’s a friend.”

And so, he said, “If Mitt Romney’s wise enough to pick him as his running mate, I think he’ll do great things as vice president.”

Portman is a 56-year-old Methodist from Terrace Park, Ohio, who has three children in high school and college (Jed, Will and Sally), two dogs (Chuck and Duke) and a wife (Jane). He’s also got an undergraduate degree in anthropology from Dartmouth and a law degree from the University of Michigan.

Some in politics might call that boring. Others call it safe. But Portman has a long list of other qualifications that have shot him to the top rung of VP contenders.

For one thing, he is a hunter and -- unlike Romney -- knows what he’s hunted. In some areas of the country, that’s virtually a requirement to be a card-carrying member of the GOP. On Tuesday, his eyes lit up outside of a weekly meeting of Senate Republicans when he started talking about hunting turkeys. He’s also taken his kids to Georgia to hunt wild boar.

Portman has also kayaked all over the world. In a book called “First Descents,” he and Dan Reicher (a college friend from Dartmouth who served in the Clinton administration and notably on President Obama’s transition team) contributed a chapter called “China by Kayak” about their experience sneaking through the country in 1984 to kayak the Yangtze and Li rivers in east-central China.

“The Yangtze is an awesome river, especially when experienced from a kayak,” they wrote. “It is more than 3,000 miles long and flows at great speed -- in places more than 20 mph – and reaches depths of many hundreds of feet. Huge whirlpools erupt out of nowhere. Avoiding them proved a challenge; thankfully, most of those that caught us were more innocent than they looked. Some river travelers were not so fortunate. Midmorning we came upon a man in a whirlpool -- face down and bloated.”

These days, he still whitewater paddles on the Ohio River with his sons, and he coaches daughter Sally’s indoor soccer team.

But one of the qualities that might make him most valuable to Romney -- who many political observers think needs a Latino on the ticket to neutralize the president’s edge with that group -- is Portman’s fluency in Spanish.

Aides and former aides gush that the senator has brushed up on his foreign-language skills over the years by engaging any Spanish-speaking worker or patron he encounters at festivals, restaurants and political events. When he was a House member in the 1990s, he tutored students both in Washington and in Ohio who took courses in English as a second language (ESL).

“He just did it as a volunteer,” a supporter said. “It’s because he really just is a good guy.”

Of course, Portman isn’t expected to be picked for likability or his facility with Spanish.

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

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