Senate hopeful says custom is ‘overrated’ in visit to Valley
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — While Rob Portman, the leading Republican candidate for the 2010 U.S. Senate race, says, “You don’t turn away support,” he hasn’t sought it from former President George W. Bush, his ex-boss, and former Vice President Dick Cheney.
In an interview Thursday with The Vindicator, Portman also said Bush and Cheney haven’t offered their support for his Senate bid.
“I think endorsements are overrated, even the ones I’ve made,” he said.
When Portman announced his candidacy for the Senate in January, his campaign released a list of about 150 supporters endorsing his candidacy. That includes several prominent Republicans such as U.S. House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Senate President Bill Harris, Senate President Pro-Tem Tom Niehaus and Betty Montgomery, former state auditor and attorney general.
Portman was in the Mahoning Valley on Thursday holding private meetings as part of his campaign to run next year for the U.S. Senate seat held by fellow Republican George V. Voinovich. Voinovich isn’t seeking re-election and has endorsed Portman.
Recent polls have Portman trailing both Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, the two leading Democratic candidates for the Senate seat. But unlike the eventual Democratic nominee for the seat, Portman probably won’t need to spend a lot of his campaign money to win his party’s primary.
Portman served as a U.S. House member in southwest Ohio from 1993 to 2005. Portman acted as a liaison between the White House and House Republicans during Bush’s first term as president.
Portman resigned his congressional seat in May 2005, becoming Bush’s United States trade representative. In May 2006, Portman became director of the Office of Management and Budget, a position he held till his resignation in June 2007.
Democrats are trying to tie Portman to Bush, whose popularity plummeted in polls toward the end of his presidential administration.
Besides the two appointments by Bush, Portman voted with Bush about 95 percent of the time while the former was in Congress, according to a voting study conducted by Congressional Quarterly, a publication and Web site that covers the federal government.
Portman said Thursday that he’s “proud of my record” and said he has a long record of bipartisanship in Congress, including having 12 bills he sponsored signed into law by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
“My approach is to always focus on results,” he said. “It’s not about party politics.”
When asked if he’s willing to have Bush, Cheney and U.S. Sen. John McCain, the failed 2008 Republican presidential nominee, campaign for him, Portman said McCain is the only one of the three, so far, to offer his assistance. McCain spoke at a Washington, D.C., event to raise money for Portman. Portman was considered one of the leading candidates to be McCain’s vice presidential running mate last year.
Portman said McCain spoke of “my bipartisanship,” and, “I’m happy to have him support me. You don’t turn away support, but I’ve got to win this race on my own.”
As for receiving support from Bush and Cheney, Portman only said he hasn’t asked for it or received it.
Cheney has publicly endorsed Portman and told CNN in March that he looked forward to helping Portman and other Republicans “if they need my help.”
As for what can be done to restore the GOP to prominence, Portman said the party needs to “embrace” independents and conservative Democrats to be successful.
“We’ve got to be a big tent party,” Portman said. “We shouldn’t be in the practice of excluding people. We should be more inclusive.”
Portman referred to himself as a “common-sense Republican” and a “fiscal conservative. My voting record shows that. I’m in the mainstream of my party.”