The Monday Fix: Rob Portman, Running as an Insider

Rob Portman served as U.S. trade representative and OMB chief under Bush.
Rob Portman served as U.S. trade representative and OMB chief under Bush. (By Gerald Herbert -- Associated Press)
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By Chris Cillizza
Monday, June 29, 2009

In a political world where candidates are falling all over themselves to tout their "outsider" credentials, Rob Portman is a rare exception.

Portman, a former congressman and Bush administration official, is casting himself as a dealmaking insider in his campaign for the seat being vacated by Sen. George Voinovich (R) in 2010.

"I know enough now about where the bodies are buried [and] how the Senate works that I know I can be effective there for Ohio," Portman said in a recent interview.

Portman's résumé includes 12 years representing a Cincinnati area House district as well as two one-year stints for President George W. Bush as the director of the Office of Management and Budget and as U.S. trade representative.

It's the latter two jobs that Democrats have seized on to argue that Portman is fundamentally flawed as he seeks a Senate seat in one of the states hit hardest economically during a Republican president's eight-year tenure. The argument goes that Ohio voters won't be keen on electing a confidant of a president who remains deeply unpopular in their state.

Portman treads carefully when asked about the burden of Bush. He calls his time in those jobs valuable but quickly notes that "I was working for the administration [and] what I now want to do is to go back to what I was doing before, which is to be my own boss."

Portman added that he doesn't hear about his time spent in the Bush administration as he moves around the state meeting voters, insisting that the lone issue on Ohioans' minds is putting someone in the Senate who can help create jobs and work across the aisle to get things done. "People aren't looking back," Portman said. "They're looking forward, and they're worried."

Portman, however, is reluctant to look too far into the future -- particularly when asked about whether he may be one of the leaders the GOP so badly needs if he wins in Ohio next year. "I am not running to be the spokesman for the Republican Party," he said. "I am not running to be a national leader."

That statement aside, Portman did offer three ways in which the national party could -- and should -- heal itself.

Asked how he could win in a state that leaned toward Democrats in the 2006 and 2008 elections, Portman returned to his results-oriented-insider argument. Voters are looking for "people who can work across the aisle and focus on solutions and get stuff done," he said. ". . . That's my record."

THE INTERNECINE SCENE

As last year's unending primary fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton proved, sometimes intraparty squabbles aren't the appetizer but rather the main course.

Primaries are often devoid of real issues because the candidates tend to agree on the big things, and so the discussion often strays into the differing styles of the combatants, and occasionally into the personal realm.


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