With half a year left in the presidential election, the intrigue surrounding Mitt Romney’s eventual selection of a running mate has given political prognosticators an outlet for their energy that doesn’t require analyzing much polling data. It’s a human-interest story set against the background of the 2008 election, in which the GOP’s vice presidential nominee was a genuinely fascinating political personality and the Democratic nominee was an avuncular, gaffe-prone senator the president is constantly being encouraged to drop from the ticket this November.
But it is highly unlikely the public will be treated to such a spectacle this time around. Romney is pretty much defined by his aura of caution and his devotion to data and analysis, and has never shown a desire to make splashing headlines if he can avoid it. Even when he seems to be dipping his toes in the water of identity politics, there is an empirical approach to it. For example, if he were to select a woman for the ticket, the name that has come up the most has been that of Condoleezza Rice, and the most common Latino name suggested for the vice-presidential nod is that of Marco Rubio–a swing-state senator. But another distinct possibility is Ohio Senator Rob Portman, and the Washington Post profile of Portman calls attention to just how surprisingly under-the-radar Portman has flown throughout his career:
A young trade lawyer steeped in Republican politics, he honed policy ideas for the administration of George H.W. Bush as an associate White House counsel. Soon, he rose to become the president’s chief liaison to Congress, as director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.
In no small part since, he has ascended on the strength of his connections to two different Bush administrations. During the 2000 presidential campaign, the staff for then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush asked him to play the part of Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph I. Lieberman in mock debates that the Bush team had arranged for Richard B. Cheney, its desired running mate. Portman proved so formidable that, before the last of Bush’s three debates, he found himself in the dining room of the Texas governor’s mansion, playing Al Gore against Bush. He had prepared for the practice session by watching tapes of virtually every Gore debate he could find….
In 2008, Portman served as a sparring partner for John McCain during a presidential debate practice, playing the role of Barack Obama. A Portman friend recalls receiving a phone call from a glum McCain aide shortly after a mock debate ended. “Portman just annihilated our guy,” the aide said. Adds former McCain strategist Steve Schmidt, who also watched the practices: “Anybody who saw Rob Portman in the role of Barack Obama during debate preps has no doubt about his ability to compete, debate and campaign effectively at the highest levels.”
Portman comes across as intensely prepared, steady, and creative. He has been an ideas man for much of his career—though that may well be a double-edged sword as it calls attention to his ties to the Bush administration.
The full profile is worth a read, and is notable for the absence of what has become something of a staple for the Post’s profiles on up-and-coming Republicans: bizarre, unfounded accusations of bigotry or crude, obsessive investigations that turn up nothing but are published along with a headline claiming something the story never proves. It is, in other words, a piece of serious journalism about a serious public servant.