Sen. Portman may hang up his debate-prep boots

Chris Moody
Political Reporter
The Ticket

DAYTON, Ohio—Was this Rob Portman's final performance?

The Republican Ohio senator who played the role of President Barack Obama during debate prep sessions with Mitt Romney, known for his master ability to channel the Democratic mind, could be retiring from the debate-prep world.

"I think I may hang up my debate boots," Portman told Yahoo News after Monday night's third and final presidential debate, in Boca Raton, Fla.

Portman, who was considered a possible vice presidential pick, has helped fellow Republicans prepare for debates for more than 15 years. He has played Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards and Al Gore, just to name a few, and he channeled Obama for both John McCain in 2008 and Romney four years later.

Republican strategists who have seen Portman in action say he flawlessly memorizes and articulates Democratic positions, and has an uncanny knack for imitating the candidates' body language, speech cadences and, in some cases, their voices. Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom even called Portman "the unsung hero" of the presidential debates.

Years of being a student of liberal policy positions has given him a unique insight into the mind of a Democrat, Portman said. It makes him a rare breed in the GOP.

"The biggest thing you learn when you play somebody is what their positions are on the issues," Portman said. "We don't actually listen to what the other side is saying, and in this role you actually have to listen and get into the details. And to be honest with you, there's not a lot of new policies, there's no agenda for the future, there's not a lot of vision."

Portman, of course, is no one-trick pony. Although he spent part of the general election campaign behind closed doors with Romney—debate prep sessions are traditionally kept secret—he has been Romney's most public and vocal advocate in the Buckeye State. As the only GOP senator from Ohio, a swing state that could very well determine the outcome of the November election, Portman has been by Romney's side at nearly every campaign rally here.

When the candidate campaigns elsewhere, Portman stumps for him on his own as Romney's state chair, visits Republican volunteer offices to make voter calls and raises money for him within the state.

"I've enjoyed it," Portman said of his time campaigning for Romney. "I also can't wait to get home to Ohio full time."