“It was typical Rob, trying to find a thoughtful way forward that solves the problem but doesn’t overreact,’’ said former congressman Tom Davis (R-Va.).
Supporters say that is a critical asset for Portman, now a first-term senator and considered to be among the leading contenders for Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate.
But Democrats see it as a way to tie Portman to DeLay, who was later convicted of corruption in the Texas probe. And the episode points to a potentially broader vulnerability if Portman were selected: his longtime status as a Washington insider — and the baggage that can go with that — when Romney is running as an outsider.
Portman, who spent Monday addressing Romney supporters in Ohio, continues to draw attention as a potential No. 2 on the GOP ticket. He is respected by both Democrats and Republicans as savvy and cerebral. And Portman, 56, could help Romney in Ohio, a crucial swing state.
His two decades of Washington experience includes a stint at the D.C. lobbying powerhouse Patton Boggs, where he registered as a foreign agent and advocated for Duty Free Shoppers, a Hong Kong-based operator of airport and other duty-free stores. The company has had a web of offshore affiliations, records show, including incorporations in Bermuda and the Netherlands Antilles, often used as tax havens.
While he was in Congress, Portman’s PAC accepted $4,000 from Indian tribes represented by D.C. superlobbyist Jack Abramoff — convicted in a scandal that came to symbolize Washington corruption — along with $500 from a convicted colleague of Abramoff. Records show that many Republicans, and some Democrats, accepted similar tribal donations.
A Portman aide said the senator has no recollection of meeting Abramoff. Portman’s office declined to comment on his vice presidential prospects or other aspects of his record.
Portman’s long-standing ties to the Bush family would probably be raised by President Obama’s campaign, which is trying to tie Romney to the Bush years. Portman served in President George H.W. Bush’s administration and then worked for President George W. Bush as U.S. trade representative and budget director. Former Bush aides say he consistently pushed to rein in spending and convinced others in the White House to propose a balanced budget.
Portman “is a strong candidate, an experienced guy, with a deep understanding of the issues,’’ said Democratic strategist Tad Devine. But he “could undercut Romney on Washington insider. If he turns out not to be one member of Congress but also a lobbyist, a Bush White House staffer and he starts looking like Mr. Inside, it will look like Romney will be just the same old, same old.’’