Sunday, December 24, 2000

Rob Portman

Pols lose chance to snare seat

        Everyone in Ohio's 2nd Congressional District can take a deep breath now.

        World War III has been averted. There is peace on earth.

        Rob Portman is staying put.

        There is no question that the congressman from Terrace Park could have come out of this bizarre presidential election with pretty much any kind of high-profile Cabinet or White House job that he wanted, given the fact that the winner in the end was his good friend from Texas, George W. Bush, whose father a young Rob Portman served in the White House the last time there was a Bush administration.

Well traveled
        Loyalty counts in the Bush world and Mr. Portman went far beyond the call of duty in this presidential election. In the primary season, when John McCain seemed to have the Texas governor on the ropes, Mr. Portman stumped Ohio and helped bring the McCain Straight Talk Express to a screeching halt.

        He was an important Bush surrogate at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, making the rounds of state delegations to make sure all Republicans were reading off the same page on Social Security. He played the role of Joe Lieberman in Dick Cheney's debate preparations.

        After Nov. 7, when the election turned into a battle over dimpled chads and butterfly ballots, Mr. Portman racked up the frequent flier miles shuttling from Washington to Cincinnati and Florida over and over again, acting as a Bush observer in the hand counts and a prime spin-meister on the cable news network circuit.

        All of this, given his long-standing relationship with the Bushes and his campaign service, could have spelled a Cabinet job.

Many interested
        But Mr. Portman has chosen to stay put, where he can be the chief point man in the House for the Bush legislative agenda, and end up wielding more influence than he would running some obscure corner of the federal bureaucracy.

        This decision has broken the hearts of more than one politician in Hamilton, Clermont, Brown and Adams counties. A small army of them, in fact.

        The speculation about Mr. Portman leaving, setting up a special election in 2001, would have attracted a bundle of GOP candidates.

        Among those said to be dreaming of a Capitol Hill office were two Cincinnati councilmen, Phil Heimlich and Pat DeWine; a Hamilton County commissioner, Tom Neyer; a radio talk show host, Bill Cunningham; Ohio Senate president Richard Finan, former State Rep. Rose Vesper, State Sen. Doug White, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

Campaign averted
        Many GOP activists in parts of the 2nd District report having increased sightings of some of the above in their areas in the past year. Some were clearing the groundwork for a run at Congress.

        It would have been a thing to behold: a half dozen or so Republicans locked in a steel cage death match in a special GOP primary, just like the one eight years ago when Mr. Portman emerged from the pack. There would have been bodies strewn in the streets from Blue Ash to West Union.

        In other words, it would have been great fun.

       Howard Wilkinson covers politics. He can be reached at 768-8388 or email at


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