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Sen. Rob Portman is working aggressively to help Republicans take back Ohio from President Barack Obama in 2012, and in the process developing connections with top GOP contenders who could put him on the short list for the vice-presidential nomination.
Portman will remain neutral in the GOP presidential primary, choosing instead to help all the eventual candidates make inroads with Ohio voters and Republican donors in preparation for competing in a state that could determine the winner of the general election. Mentioned four years ago as a potential vice presidential pick for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Portman brushed aside speculation that he might be considered again but declined to directly rule it out.
“I just spent 22 months running a campaign to get to represent Ohio in the Senate and I’m really excited about that, and that’s my total focus,” Portman told Roll Call. “I’m just focused on jobs, the economy and the fiscal problems as they relate to Ohio. And that’s a full-time job — that’s a 24/7 job right now.”
Fresh off of an 18-point Senate victory that saw him win 82 of 88 counties and 15 of 18 Congressional districts, including that of two-time presidential candidate and liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D), Portman boasts a statewide grass-roots network that he has continued to cultivate since the midterm elections.
Portman is based in Cincinnati, the hub of Ohio’s nationally sought-after GOP fundraising community. He has simultaneously established relationships with business-minded Republicans and campaign donors, state GOP officials and tea party activists — threading a needle of support in a key White House battleground that has been difficult for high-profile Republicans in other regions of the country.
A handful of potential Republican presidential candidates headlined fundraisers for Portman during his 2010 Senate campaign, including Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.), who has since decided against a White House bid.
Portman returned the favor by personally introducing them to his campaign donors and activist supporters — and later by delivering introductory speeches when the contenders spoke to Ohio GOP groups. Buckeye State Republican organizations are using Portman as a conduit to invite potential presidential candidates to appear before them. Portman said he helped arrange for candidates to speak at a “few” upcoming Lincoln Day dinners in Ohio, although he declined to name the candidates involved.