Portman Won't Run for Two Offices Simultaneously in 2016

Portman Won't Run for Two Offices Simultaneously in 2016

By Scott Conroy - August 26, 2014

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Even while saying he is focused on the midterm races and his own potential re-election bid in 2016, Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman confirmed on Tuesday that he is leaving the door open to mounting a presidential run next year.  

But there is one option that Portman is ruling out: campaigning for both the White House and Senate at the same time.  

“At this point, I’m planning to run for Senate in Ohio,” he told RealClearPolitics in an interview here in the first-in-the-nation primary state. “Your next question is going to be, ‘Can’t you do both?’ And the answer is, ‘Yes,’ but I wouldn’t. I think you need to focus.” 

Ohio election law permits candidates to run for Congress and president simultaneously, making Portman’s avowal that he would not do so a notable pronouncement.  

Two of his fellow Republican senators -- Marco Rubio and Rand Paul -- are considering presidential bids in 2016, when each is also up for re-election. But laws in their home states of Florida and Kentucky, respectively, stipulate that candidates cannot be on the ballot for both offices in the same election.  

Paul and his allies are lobbying to change the Kentucky statute -- primarily through an effort to flip the Democratic-controlled state House this year -- but Rubio has said that he will not attempt to change Florida’s law.  

Though speculation over Portman’s White House ambitions colored his Granite State visit, he was here ostensibly to endorse and help raise money for GOP Senate hopeful Scott Brown in advance of his Sept. 9 primary.

The first-term Ohio senator, who is also the current finance chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, predicted that the GOP would retake the Senate in November but that the margin for doing so would be tight.  

Asked if the results of the 2014 elections would play a role in his decision whether to run for president in 2016, Portman replied, “Maybe.”  

“I really do think our country’s in trouble, and I’m going to be looking to see who’s addressing those issues, and who can bring the country together to solve those problems,” he said. “Again, I’m planning to run in Ohio. I’m not planning to take this bigger step, but I am going to be watching and seeing who steps up.” 

But it was also clear on Tuesday that Portman is starting to carve out a path for himself in New Hampshire to run as a mainline establishment Republican. He spent the morning rubbing shoulders with statewide political players at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics here in the state’s largest city and delivered a morning address at NHIOP’s “Politics and Eggs” breakfast -- an event that traditionally has been used by prospective White House contenders as a springboard for future candidacies. 

Throughout his remarks, which he delivered in a characteristically subdued tone, Portman emphasized his affinity for and personal ties to the state, including the undergraduate education he received at Dartmouth College -- the Ivy League institution where his daughter currently is a student.  

Portman also reminisced about his long history as a campaign surrogate and debate coach for Republican presidential candidates, recalling one particular incident during a 1996 snowstorm when the car he was riding in with Bob Dole nearly skidded off the highway.

“Candidates come here and they have to be authentic because the people of New Hampshire can look right through them,” he told the audience of about 100 people, who packed the small ballroom.  

Portman -- who previously spent 12 years in the U.S. House and was the U.S. trade representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget in the George W. Bush White House -- said that he had been asked to speak about what is happening legislatively in Washington. 

“That would be a very short speech,” he said. “Not a whole lot is happening, and there’s a reason why Congress has a 10 percent approval rating.” 

Instead, Portman laid out some of his own policy prescriptions on issues ranging from foreign policy to economic growth and tax policy. 

In contrast to some of the Tea Party-aligned 2016 GOP hopefuls who have come through New Hampshire recently, Portman emphasized his record of having introduced legislation with bipartisan roots, rather than opposing Democrats at every turn.  

Though he criticized President Obama’s leadership at several junctures, Portman suggested that with his legacy in mind, Obama might be more willing to compromise with Republicans during his last two years in office -- an opportunity that he said the GOP should seize.  

Portman also rebutted hardline conservatives who believe that Washington should be doing less: “I would disagree. I think we’re in a moment of history where Washington should be doing more.” 

Though he did not demonstrate the kind of energetic speaking style that has been typical of successful presidential candidates, Portman was received warmly by the politically attuned crowd, who appeared to appreciate his low-key approach.  

If he does run for president in 2016, Portman’s support for same-sex marriage -- a position that he took last year after his son came out to him and his wife -- would provide an intriguing test case for a Republican candidate in socially moderate New Hampshire.  

Portman said that reactions so far to his conversion on the issue have been mixed. 

“But I will tell you that every week -- sometimes every day -- I have some emotional experience with it where someone will come to me and say something that’s very personal,” he told RCP. “I do think this is one where we should let people lead their lives the way they are, and we should respect people’s abilities to lead their lives as they are. I don’t know what the politics are going to be.”

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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