Oct 15, 2014 2:14 PM

Ohio senator visits key states while mulling 2016

The Associated Press

LEBANON, Ohio (AP) For someone who's not on the November ballot, Republican Sen. Rob Portman is keeping up a presidential campaign-style schedule by dropping in important states for anyone contemplating a White House bid.

The Ohio Republican was in New Hampshire on Wednesday for GOP Senate candidate Scott Brown, Portman's latest effort in the GOP bid to gain six seats and the Senate majority. He's finance chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which recently reported a fundraising haul of $15.5 million for September for its monthly record.

This month, Portman and his wife, Jane, visited Iowa, which opens the presidential nominating season with caucuses. His primary purpose was to help Senate hopeful Joni Ernst against Democrat Bruce Braley for the seat being vacated by Sen. Tom Harkin. But in addition to events for Ernst over two days, Portman met with Gov. Terry Branstad and other top Republican officials.

"We wanted to make sure to help her (Ernst) and it was also just a chance to get to meet some political people there," Portman said in an interview this week. "And so it was a whirlwind tour."

He has campaigned for Senate candidates in about a dozen states so far, and plans to be in several more before November besides making repeat visits such as the one Wednesday in New Hampshire, an early primary state.

Steve Duprey, RNC national committeeman in New Hampshire, said Portman "could make a very good run" and would have appeal there because of his focus on fiscal issues in a state he says will "give a fair hearing to a serious candidate who isn't well-known." Portman already has a link to the state he's a Dartmouth College grad.

Portman says he will wait until after the midterms to decide whether to mount a presidential run or to focus on winning a second Senate term in 2016.

While he doesn't show up among top potential Republican candidates in most national polls, Portman supporters see his experience as congressman, White House budget chief and U.S. trade representative as a good resume to run on. He was on Mitt Romney's short list of potential 2012 running mates and stayed closely involved in the campaign including playing President Barack Obama for Romney's debate preparations.

"I've got a lot of friends who are encouraging me to run," Portman said, adding that among those whose counsel he'll seek before making a decision are former presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush. He served in the White House for both.

Of course, there's a third Bush in the picture.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in Texas this week to support his son's candidacy for Texas Land Commissioner, replied playfully when asked by an AP reporter about running for president: "You're about ready to get a 15-yard penalty and loss of down here."

Portman said he doesn't know whether Jeb Bush will run, although his own decision might be influenced by who jumps into the race.

"I probably will see who else is running and what they're talking about," said Portman, 58. "But I think you ultimately make the decision based on whether you think the country would be best served by having you in that position or not."


AP reporter Will Weissert contributed to this report from Abilene, Texas.


Contact Dan Sewell at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell


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