CINCINNATI, Ohio – Ask Rob Portman, the soft-spoken Republican senator from Ohio, about the significance of Mitt Romney’s looming running-mate decision, and he insists the pick won’t change the arc of the 2012 general election.
“I don’t think that it’s that important,” Portman said in an exclusive interview with ABC News at his new offices here on the 30th floor of a downtown skyscraper.
“People vote for the president, not the vice president,” he said. “I think sometimes people that are in the veepstakes talk too much about this and certainly the media does… I don’t think that it’s that important.”
Still, Portman, 56, remains atop the short list for Romney’s vice presidential nod and has been a leading voice prosecuting the case against a second Obama term.
“It’s time to give the ball to someone else. [Obama] fumbled the ball; he’s failed in his economic policies,” Portman said. “Mitt Romney has got good ideas, he’s got the experience, he’s got the record and I think it’s time for us to give the ball to him and help get the economy moving again.”
A veteran of Republican presidential administrations and a small business owner, Portman is eyed as a counterweight to Romney with strong Washington instincts, solid economic chops and popular appeal across the electorally-important Buckeye State.
Some observers have called him the “anti-Palin” of potential VP picks, referring to Sen. John McCain’s colorful surprise choice in 2008, possessing a personality that may not sizzle but packing plenty of substance.
“Rob is confident enough to be humble,” said Jane Portman, the senator’s wife of more than 25 years, in what she said was her first joint interview of the 2012 campaign. “I like that about him, and I think the American people need to know that he’s not a show-off. He’s a doer, a go-getter. And that’s what I think the American people look for in a leader and I’m happy to be by his side.”
“I am who I am,” the senator interjected with a grin.
For now, Sen. Portman says he’s content as a loyal, leading surrogate for Romney, pitching Ohioans on the case for why they need to put a Republican back in the White House.
“My concern about Barack Obama is he ran a campaign in 2008 where he said we’re going to bring people together and solve big problems. And he specifically talked about the need to reach across the aisle and deal with issues like the economy, which was obviously the top issue in 2008. It has not happened. He has not succeeded in doing what he said he was going to do,” he said.
Mrs. Portman conceded she’s a bit of a “novice” in the media limelight but nonetheless an enthusiastic partner in the escalating presidential campaign — even keeping an open mind about possibly joining the Romney ticket.
“It doesn’t scare me, I’m just not used to it,” she said about all the attention. “We live here in Ohio, we’ve kept our home here, our kids have been raised here. We like our life the way it is. It’s very easy and comfortable. We’re here with friends and family. We lead a pretty normal existence.”