Republican National Convention
Wednesday, August 02, 2000

Portman sells Bush plan to delegates




By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CHERRY HILL, N.J. — For Rob Portman, being one of the principal surrogates for George W. Bush this week means watching a lot of other people eating big breakfasts and having none yourself.

        Tuesday morning, after popping in briefly at the Ohio delegation breakfast at a downtown Philadelphia hotel, the 2nd District congressman grabbed a muffin off a tray and bolted down the escalators to a van waiting to take him across the river to this New Jersey suburb for a date with the Missouri delegation.

        “This is probably all I'm going to get to eat today,” Mr. Portman said, pulling apart a blueberry muffin and popping chunks in his mouth as he loped down the escalator. “This is a tough business.”

        Mr. Portman is one of a handful of congressmen and Bush campaign advisers whose assignment at this week's Republican National Convention in Philadelphia is talking to delegates about exactly what message the Bush campaign wants them to take home on the issue of saving the Social Security system.

        For Mr. Portman, that meant a trip across the Delaware River to the New Jersey Holiday Inn where the Missouri Republicans are staying and a Social Security briefing with two Bush campaign economic advisers while the Missourians ate their breakfast.

        Today he does the same for the Florida and Pennsylvania delegations; on Thursday the Iowans and Ohioans hear the Social Security message.

        These are all states Republicans want to win.

        “My job is to make sure everybody understands what Gov. Bush is saying about Social Security so they can go back home and sell it,” said Mr. Portman. “I'm a surrogate for the governor; and I'm training delegates to be surrogates back home.”

        The Cincinnati Republican is considered a natural for the job of selling Mr. Bush's Social Security plan, which includes a voluntary plan to allow younger workers to divert some of their Social Security taxes into private retirement accounts that they control.

        Mr. Portman, who co-authored IRS reform legislation, is steeped in the issue. He has close ties not only to the Texas governor but to the whole Bush family, having worked in the administration of President George Bush as legislative liaison.

        The rumor mill at this convention has Mr. Portman landing a big job in a George W. Bush White House, possibly as treasury secretary or White House chief of staff..

        Roll Call, a Capitol Hill weekly, went so far as to name Mr. Portman in its Monday issue as one of a handful of House Republicans who might be a presidential candidate himself one day.

        But Monday, Mr. Portman was a young congressman from Ohio standing in for a presidential candidate.

        “This is about principle, not politics,” Mr. Portman told the Missourians. “It's about doing the right thing.”

        When one woman in the Missouri delegation stood up and told Mr. Portman that while she liked much of what she was hearing, “it was Congress that stole the money from Social Security. I say we first need to put back what Congress stole.”

        An excellent point, Mr. Portman said.

        “The Democrats were raiding the Social Security fund for 30 years,” Mr. Portman said. “But it's the Republicans who stepped up to the plate to save it. That's what we have to make people understand.”

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