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Ohio Republican Power Players Plot 2012 Strategy

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Sen. Rob Portman, a frequently mentioned vice presidential pick, is working with his fellow Ohio Republicans to bring the White House back to the GOP fold.

Boehner, Portman and Kasich served for a decade together in the House in the 1990s, but since that time each has emerged in his own right as a power player in national politics. And back in Ohio, they possess strengths that will lead them to chart different paths in the 2012 campaign.

Boehner will focus on keeping the Republican majority in the delegation — as well as in the House. The Ohio GOP Congressional delegation was particularly helpful to the state party in the 2010 elections — and it remains so — which is credited to Boehner’s ascension in the House Republican leadership.

Kasich will specialize in playing to the GOP base, and as governor will take a leading role in the 2012 campaign. Although not expected to concern himself with the day-to-day operations of the state party, Kasich is already showing interest in the White House contest, telling a national reporter last week that he was backing Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) should he run for president.

Portman will be the party’s go-to money man and point-person for crucial vote territory of Cincinnati and greater southwest Ohio. Portman is already taking phone calls from prospective 2012 candidates and making introductions for them in-state, but has said he will not endorse anyone in the GOP primary. Portman, who won easily this past November, spent much of his campaign helping other candidates and developing relationships with others in the party.

“I think it is a collective effort,” Portman told Roll Call. “There’s an acknowledgement that Ohio is going to be key to the election. It’s always been true that Ohio’s an important swing state. When you do the math this year, my own view is, I don’t think the president can put together the Electoral College numbers without Ohio. There’s going to be a lot of focus on our state.”

Ohio Republicans were not surprised to hear Kasich was supporting the Mississippi governor, given that under Barbour’s leadership the Republican Governors Association spent millions on Kasich’s race last year. The two men also have been close for more than a decade. But the early timing of Kasich’s words — before Barbour had even officially announced a bid — surprised many in the state.

Those close to the Kasich team cautioned this could be the totality of the governor’s involvement in the presidential race for a long time, and they expect him to keep his hands off the daily campaign grind next year. Instead, those close to the governor say the eventual nominee will rely on Kasich’s greatest strength when he is needed: firing up the base in the Buckeye State.

“The base loves him. They’re willing to go into the fiery pit of hell with him,” said one Republican operative in the state.

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