Rob Portman won’t run for president, but he’s still one to watch

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio openly considered a bid for the Republican nomination in 2016. Instead, he'll run for reelection to the Senate. But he's likely to be on the short list for VP.

Al Behrman/AP/File
Sen. Rob Portman (R) of Ohio speaks during an interview in Lebanon, Ohio, earlier this year.

Sen. Rob Portman (R) of Ohio – a leader of the Republican Party’s center-right wing – has opted not to run for president. Instead, he will run for reelection to the Senate, he announced late Monday night. 

But don’t cross Senator Portman off the list of people to watch for the next presidential sweepstakes. He’s a lock for the vice presidential short list of just about anybody who heads the 2016 ticket.

Portman brings to the table an A-list résumé: House member, budget director and US trade representative for President George W. Bush, and now senator. He helped the GOP win control of the Senate come January as co-chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the just-concluded midterms. In that capacity, Portman proved skillful at raising money from skeptical donors and built a national network.

Portman is also from Ohio, a crucial battleground state. But he’s not Mr. Charisma, and that might have been his downfall. Some may argue that charisma is overrated; President Obama’s lagging popularity testifies to that (though charisma certainly was key to his two elections).

As a No. 2, Portman’s low-key, competent style might be just right. He would not overshadow the top of the ticket. If the Republicans nominate a governor (or ex-governor) for president, a Washington insider might be just the right complement – just as 2012 nominee Mitt Romney selected Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee.

“I can’t imagine that he will not be on the [VP] short list, Day One, for virtually any of the candidates that have a shot of getting the nomination,” former New York GOP Rep. Rick Lazio, a Portman confidant, told Politico. “I can’t recall when he’s ever made a gaffe. He’s just a very reliable partner to have on a ticket.”

There’s just one element of Portman’s profile that could give the GOP nominee pause when shopping for a running mate: Portman supports same-sex marriage, a position he adopted when his son came out as gay. A majority of Republicans do not support gay marriage. But depending on what the Supreme Court does between now and November 2016, the issue could be less salient. And the steady growth of public acceptance of gay marriage could make Portman’s view less controversial by then, especially among general election voters.

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