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Interview with Senator Rob Portman

Interview with Senator Rob Portman

By The Situation Room - November 5, 2012

BLITZER: And Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio joining us right now.

Senator Portman, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: Wolf, great to be on with you again.

BLITZER: Let's talk about your beautiful state of Ohio right now. In our average, our CNN poll of polls, this is the final one we have done, the likely voters' choice for president in Ohio, right now, Obama 50 percent, Romney 47 percent, very, very tight right now. The president's slightly ahead.

If the president wins Ohio, will it be because he helped bail out the auto industry and so many jobs in Ohio are connected to the car industry?

PORTMAN: Well, I think it's because he won last time by five points and Ohio is a purple state. We're not red and we're not blue.

And, look, I think the race is very close. We're within the margin of error on that CNN poll you just talked about. There are other polls out there that have it a dead heat. I believe that's where we are.

I also think the energy and enthusiasm, Wolf, is on our side this year. I did not feel that in 2008. I think it's even more than 2004, more like 2000. And that at the end of the day as you know makes a huge difference in terms of your turnout.

BLITZER: I was surprised in that recent ad that the Romney campaign put out talking about the car problems, moving Jeep jobs supposedly from Ohio to China, if you will. Why do you bring that up? Because, politically, this seems like that it was a no-win situation, given the fact that president has scored a lot of points by what he did to save Chrysler and GM.

PORTMAN: Well, I thought it was an important ad to run, not so much because of that part, but because of the fact that for the last six months the Democrats have been running an ad in Ohio that is just not accurate, saying that it was Mitt Romney that wanted to take the companies through bankruptcy, it was Mitt Romney that was not providing federal help for these workers and for the auto industry.

And as you know, this came out in the second debate. The fact- finders found that that was false, and in fact Mitt Romney did have a plan. I supported the rescue effort at the time. As you know, I thought we needed to do something to help the auto companies, but the fact is that both of them had plans and it was Barack Obama who actually took the companies through bankruptcy, General Motors and Chrysler.

I think that's an important point that people needed to know because, frankly, the campaign was not responding to those inaccurate attack ads by the Obama administration. Second, I think it's really important to make the point that going forward it's Mitt Romney's plan for tax reform, regulatory relief, lower health care costs, energy costs, fair trade and also worker retraining that the companies are looking for.

If you're in the auto business, if you're an autoworker, you have to look at Mitt Romney's plans because they're actually going to help ensure we have a strong auto industry here in the state of Ohio.

BLITZER: Yes, but I guess the only point I was going to make is on this issue, you're probably vulnerable on this issue. I would have assumed Romney would have wanted to talk about a whole bunch of other issues where the president might be more vulnerable. But that's a tactical issue we don't have to discuss right now.

PORTMAN: Well, but I think we needed to respond to the inaccuracies. I think that was important.

And in terms of what Fiat is going to do in China, you should talk to them directly. But I do think they're planning on starting production there. And we do export all of the Jeeps now from the United States. And so, look, I think it's great making investments in Ohio and they have and I hope they will continue to.

But it's also true that if they start production in China, which they have indicated they're going to start doing, that we will have fewer exports. It doesn't mean that we will have fewer jobs here, because hopefully our market will improve here as well, particularly under Mitt Romney, if we get an expanding economy.

BLITZER: Can he win the presidency, Mitt Romney, without Ohio?

PORTMAN: Well, as I told Candy the other day, probably, but I wouldn't want to risk it. No Republican ever has. And Ohio's a key state to win. There are ways to put it together I suppose with some of the new expanding the map possibilities. Pennsylvania's one. Minnesota is one. Michigan is one based on one poll. But Ohio's pretty darn important. It's typically the road to the White House.

BLITZER: I think you will agree Michigan would be a really, really long shot.

But why is he going to Pennsylvania tomorrow? Does he really believe Pennsylvania's in play?

PORTMAN: Yes. I think there's some good polls there, Wolf.

You know, Western Pennsylvania's a lot like the eastern part of Ohio. It is an area that is dependent on natural gas and coal. These are energy parts of our country. Folks who live there, whether they're Republican, Democrat or independent, like what Mitt Romney's talking about so we see in our polls that we're overperforming in the eastern part of Ohio and I think we see the same thing in Western Pennsylvania.

So, I do believe that the polls are very close now in Pennsylvania and it's obviously something that the Romney campaign believes in, because they're planning another visit there.

BLITZER: One final question. Joe Biden said this in Virginia today and I will read it to you. He said: "I think we will win Ohio. I think we will win Wisconsin. I think we will win Iowa. I think we will win Nevada. I think we will win New Hampshire. I think Florida will be close, but I think we have a real shot of winning." And then he goes on to make a prediction.

Do you want to make a final prediction? Do you want to react to the vice president?

PORTMAN: Well, it sounds like Joe Biden is pretty confident. I was hoping it would be another comment like he made in Ohio recently, where he said, it's great to be in Iowa.

But, look, I think this is going to be a very close race. You and I have talked about this before, Wolf. I think our country is divided right now and it's not going to be a runaway either way. But I do believe Mitt Romney will win Ohio. And I believe that because I think the energy is on our side, the momentum is on our side and that's what matters here at the end.

Our folks have a lot of passion. They're very concerned about the direction of the country and concerned the record debt and deficit and what it means for their kids, concerned about the economy and the fact that we're not getting back on track with the weakest economic recovery since the Great Depression. And at the end of the day, I think that's going to make the difference.

So I think we will win Ohio. And so goes Ohio so goes the country, they say. I'm pretty confident in a win, but a narrow win. And then we have got to figure out how to work together. And this is what Mitt Romney's closing on, which I love.

He's talking about the fact that Republicans and Democrats alike have to find common ground to address these very real challenges we face as a country. It's a message that's uplifting, it's optimistic. It's about how America can be great again. I think that's the right closing message and I think frankly it's what we need to do as a country after this election regardless of what happens.

BLITZER: Senator Portman, thanks very much for coming in.

PORTMAN: Thanks, Wolf. Good to talk to you again. 

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