CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Rob Portman -- the former White House budget director who left the Bush Administration last summer -- is still sitting on campaign contributions raised before he quit the House in early 2005. He has nearly $1.5 million left over from his days representing Ohio's 2nd Congressional district, a huge financial nestegg that could hatch his political future. Portman has recently let it be known he thinks John McCain would be the Republican Party's strongest candidate in the nation's most important swing state. He also may be dreaming about landing on the national ticket with McCain.
First, the money. Portman, 52, has saved his unspent campaign contributions since early 2005, when he resigned a safe House seat he won in 1993. U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Clermont County, replaced Portman. Federal Election Commission reports filed last week by the moribund Portman for Congress Committee show it didn't donate any money to Republicans last year from the stash. The money pile totaled $1,497,650.51 on Dec. 31, 2007.
Portman reportedly has been thinking about a race for Senate or governor in 2010. To get to the Senate, he'd have to beat George Voinovich in a primary because Voinovich says he's running for another term that year. He could use the unspent funds in a Senate race. He would not be able to transfer the stash to a gubernatorial race.
But the 2008 veepstakes could beckon. If he does get on the ticket, he could give everything in his money bags to the party -- and raise even more from the corporate set. He was George Bush's trade rep before becoming budget director.
The Plain Dealer's Elizabeth Auster talked to Portman last week and found he was definitely interested in the vice presidency:
"While Portman was quick to say he doesn't expect to be anyone's running mate, he tellingly didn't deny that he would have a hard time turning down such an invitation."
"For now, Portman can only sit and watch. But his signal is clear: If he gets the call he'll be ready."
Auster's column ran under a headline saying Portman shouldn't be counted out of the veepstakes. She noted his biggest asset would be an ability to help deliver Ohio in November, an insight that several other political insiders share.
[UPDATE: 8:37 A.M. 2/7/08 -- More on Portman from The Columbus Dispatch, where he continues to talk up McCain but not deliver a formal endorsement. An e-mailer contends Portman is holding back because he's afraid of Rush and the righty radio talkers. Interesting theory implying that Portman is the kind of cautious politician who puts self-preservation ahead of his personal views. He said Portman is not a RINO but a ROHO -- a Republican Out for Himself Only.]
[UPDATE: 8:55 AM 2/7/08 -- Matt Hurley at Weapons of Mass Discussion scolds The Bellwether for dipping into the Ohioan for Veep talk that always percolates in presidential election years -- and always leads nowhere. He pretty much writes it off as a waste of time, and his commenters suggest that Portman might be better positioned as the GOP's 2010 candidate for Ohio Attorney General against Democratic AG Dann.]