In 2008, Portman served as a sparring partner for John McCain during a presidential debate practice, playing the role of Barack Obama. A Portman friend recalls receiving a phone call from a glum McCain aide shortly after a mock debate ended. “Portman just annihilated our guy,” the aide said. Adds former McCain strategist Steve Schmidt, who also watched the practices: “Anybody who saw Rob Portman in the role of Barack Obama during debate preps has no doubt about his ability to compete, debate and campaign effectively at the highest levels.”
An Ohio political friend says that Portman made no secret during a private discussion between them of his desire to be invited onto the ticket. “He is not running for the vice presidency — he knows that you can’t do that,” says the friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he still has dealings with Portman’s office. “He knows there is really nothing that can be done between now and the convention. All you can do is carry out the assignments given to you by the nominee and let the process unfold.”
The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake provides the latest veepstakes news. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is viewed as an insiders’ favorite, and Mike Huckabee might make a comeback.
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Even if Portman and his camp do everything right, they know the big invitation might never come. His close friend Bolten wonders whether Portman’s long congressional history and his links to the capital’s powerhouses could be an impediment in a year in which everyone, in both parties, seems eager to run against Washington. “It may imperil his chances of being picked,” Bolten observed. “I don’t think his [connections] particularly help him right now in a campaign dynamic. Enough said.”
Meanwhile, trying to dampen such discussions, Wym Portman added that, although his brother “is taking the attention seriously, it’s no slam-dunk” that he would even accept the second spot.
In the quiet conference room, the subject of all the worries did nothing to discourage the uncertainty. “As Wym said, I’m not sure this is the right opportunity for me,” Portman said.
If Romney asks you, you’re really saying you don’t know?
“I’d have to then get much more serious about it,” he replied.
Such is the vice presidential non-pursuit pursuit.
“It’s all” — he paused, a very long pause — “very unusual.”