Romney sets sights on Portman for shortlist
By Daniel Bornstein, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, August 3, 2012
Sen. Rob Portman ’78, R-Ohio, is widely considered one of the most likely choices for the Republican vice-presidential nomination, largely because of his expertise on economic issues and his potential to help former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., who is expected to announce his pick in the coming weeks, carry the key swing state of Ohio, according to political experts interviewed by The Dartmouth.
Portman’s credibility stems from his diverse experiences in politics, according to Rep. Charlie Bass ’74, R-N.H. He has served in both chambers of Congress, as the Office of Management and Budget director and as the United States trade representative at various points in the Bush administration.
“When I arrived in 1995, [Portman] was already a leader and brought one of the Contract with America proposals to the [House] floor,” Bass said, referring to a document developed by Republicans during the 1994 election season. The document outlined the agenda Republicans planned to pursue if they were to take control of the House.
Far from an ideologue, Bass said that Portman is respected on both sides of the aisle for his willingness to consider viewpoints with which he may not necessarily agree — a quality that is increasingly needed on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he supported the Republican congressional leadership’s decision to appoint Portman to the deficit reduction supercommittee last year because of Portman’s ability to compromise.
“Minority Leader [Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.] was right to select Senator Portman as one of the three Republican senators for the deficit reduction committee,” Brown said in a statement to The Dartmouth. “Rob has shown a willingness to find common ground by looking at both tax reform and spending cuts in order to reduce the deficit.”
In his work to reduce the federal budget deficit, Portman has typically focused on “closing loopholes,” a stance that allows him to garner credibility among Democrats without compromising the GOP’s fierce opposition to any new taxes, according to Morton Kondracke ’60, the executive editor of Roll Call and a College trustee.
“If there’s anyone who knows the budget line by line, it’s [Portman],” Kondracke said in an interview with The Dartmouth. “He’s got credibility because he is deemed to be smart, honest and relatively moderate in his approaches.”
Despite his support from members of both parties for his fiscal knowledge, some Republicans interviewed by The Dartmouth voiced concern about his qualifications.
“The fact that Portman was [former President George W. Bush’s] budget director — and Bush was big spender — makes me a little skeptical as to whether he’ll fight the growth of government,” Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., said.
The criticism leveled by the conservative media against Portman while he served in the Bush administration illustrates why some Republicans may be skeptical of Portman, according to Ohio State University political science professor Paul Beck. “Right-wing blogs were very critical of the Bush administration for its willingness to allow spending to increase dramatically,” Beck said.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., has also surfaced as a possible running mate for Romney, but it is highly unlikely that she will be tapped, experts said.
“I can’t believe she is a serious candidate,” Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said. “Ayotte doesn’t have the experience and stature to be the first Republican VP nominee since the [Sarah] Palin debacle.”
The Romney campaign’s decision to put Ayotte’s name out into the public sphere reflects a strategic tactic to generate media coverage in New Hampshire — considered a key battleground state in the election — according to Andy Smith, professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire and director of the UNH Survey Center.
“It’s bonus campaign coverage without Romney having to do any campaigning,” Smith said. “The New Hampshire media talks about Ayotte and what it would mean for the state if she’s chosen the vice-presidential nominee.”
Suggesting possible vice-presidential candidate choices — even those that are a long shot — allows the Romney campaign to dictate the national media coverage at an otherwise uneventful period in the election season, Smith said. This tactic generally prompts the press to perform comprehensive background checks on any prospective candidate, and thus helps Romney eliminate from his short list any candidate whose background might damage the Republican ticket, according to Smith.
Ayotte will almost certainly campaign on Romney’s behalf for the remainder of the election season as a way to reciprocate, he said. If Romney wins the election, Ayotte could then see enormous benefits to her own future political career, according to Smith.