CINCINNATI (AP) — Getting passed over for the national ticket hasn't kept Sen. Rob Portman from being a key player in Mitt Romney's presidential bid.
Portman gets a lot of credit for getting the Republican nominee ready for the debates that recharged the race; he's been a leading surrogate on Sunday TV talk shows, he shows up in national campaign ads, and is often alongside Romney in rallies. And he's dedicating himself in the race's final days to what could be a crucial mission for Romney — helping him win Ohio.
"We'll be in every area of Ohio. It's important to go everywhere," Portman said. He acknowledges Romney's path to the White House gets much tougher without winning the state that Barack Obama carried in 2008.
"You wouldn't want to take the risk," he said. "A Republican has never won without winning Ohio. I think we'll win Ohio, but it's going to be close."
After spending many hours on the road with Romney practicing for debates in the role of Obama — Portman has developed a reputation as top rehearsal partner for Republican candidates, going back to playing Al Gore for George W. Bush's 2000 debates — he plans to perform the remainder of his campaign roles in Ohio.
He was an early supporter of Romney in Ohio and worked hard for Romney's important March 6 primary victory. Portman, a former congressman, U.S. trade representative and White House budget chief, was often cited in national political speculation as a front-runner to be Romney's running mate and was under consideration. Instead, Romney chose Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.
"For my family and me, it was mixed," Portman said in an interview last week, calling it "an honor" to be considered. "We were relieved in a way and also disappointed.
"I think I could have helped," he said. "And I said at the time, I will throw my full weight behind Gov. Romney, do everything possible to help get him elected. I think I've done that and will continue to do that."
Mark Weaver, an Ohio consultant working for the Romney campaign who also helped Portman's 2010 Senate campaign, said it's not surprising to see Portman in the forefront for Romney. Weaver called him one of the campaign's "most valuable players" and an important force in the Ohio effort for his political knowledge of the state and his network of supporters.
"Those of us who know Rob were disappointed when he wasn't chosen," Weaver said. "But his sense of character and class allow him to throw himself into the Romney effort as if he had been the one chosen."
In the past week, Portman has taken the lead in trying to counter Obama on the auto bailout, which the president trumpeted in Ohio while ridiculing Romney's opposition. Portman says that Obama is being inaccurate and irresponsible in describing Romney's position and that Romney supported government guarantees for loans as part of his formula to help the industry.
Democrats, saying the bailout effort saved plants across the state and thousands of jobs, aren't letting up on the issue.
"Unfortunately for Sen. Portman and Mitt Romney, Ohioans know the truth," said state Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, who in a statement credited Obama with saving the industry while saying Romney turned his back on it.
If Romney wins election, Portman's name likely will be part of speculation for White House or Cabinet positions. Portman, 56, said he plans to remain in the Senate and thinks he could help a Romney presidency there by developing bipartisan efforts to "find common ground and get things done."
And if Romney falls short in Ohio and in the election, there probably will be second-guessing on whether having Portman's name with his on the ballot would have made a difference.
"I don't want to speculate on how their vice presidential pick could have affected the race differently," Obama Ohio campaign senior adviser Aaron Pickrell said, adding that he hasn't seen Ryan helping Romney's chances in the state despite frequent campaigning visits. "Who knows how Sen. Portman would have changed that?"
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