Portman Weighs Filling Bush Gap in 2016 Primary Field

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Senator Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, in Washington, D.C., on July 10, 2014. Close

Senator Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, in Washington, D.C., on July 10, 2014.

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Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Senator Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, in Washington, D.C., on July 10, 2014.

Rob Portman’s been a runner-up in two straight Republican vice-presidential selection sweepstakes. Now, the Ohio senator is weighing whether to leapfrog the process with his own presidential bid in 2016.

As Tea Party-favorite Rand Paul is building an extensive campaign operation, Portman, 58, is positioning himself to be the party establishment’s last chance to stop the Kentucky senator or other favorites of the small-government movement if former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie don’t jump into the Republican primary race.

Portman, a Bush family confidant, argues that the problem in Washington is too little insider experience in the White House, a message that could resonate with Republicans who think President Barack Obama’s lack of seasoning hurt the country.

“I would not foreclose looking at running after the 2014 elections,” Portman said yesterday at a Bloomberg News breakfast.

“I’m looking for a candidate who, again, can help return America’s promise, which is to be able to provide prosperity at home and lead the world, and I’m concerned that this administration is not and has not done that,” he said. “I think part of it is a lack of experience. And so, I will be looking for people who have experience running things, people that have experience working with the other side of the aisle, getting things done.”

Bush-Bred

Portman’s easygoing temperament belies an ambition that has driven him to hop-scotch from the congressional liaison office in President George H.W. Bush’s White House to representing a Cincinnati-area district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He served as President George W. Bush’s trade representative and budget director, and for the last four years as a senator from the politically swinging state of Ohio.

Republicans don’t have many other potential candidates whose resumes match Democrat Hillary Clinton’s, and Portman has experience on the debate stage -- or at least the mock stage -- having sparred in prep sessions with former Vice President Dick Cheney, Bush and Republican presidential nominees Senator John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.

His bet is that the American public will want both a candidate who understands the levers of economic and political power and one less personality-driven. The rap against Portman, even among Republican allies, is that he’s not exciting.

He also stands out from some within his party. He supports gay marriage -- he spoke out about his “change of heart” last year after his son Will told his parents he is gay. He hails from Quaker abolitionist ancestors and speaks Spanish, in a party lagging in Hispanic support.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, an ally of Jeb Bush who served with Portman in the U.S. House, says the Ohio senator has the makings of a strong candidate.

“Rob Portman is a proven winner in a key swing state,” Putnam said. “He has strong foreign policy and executive leadership lines on his impeccable résumé from his days as trade rep and OMB director. I’m not at all surprised he’s taking a look at this if Jeb decides against a run.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Allen in Washington at jallen149@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net Mark Silva

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