If there's one theme of Sen. Rob Portman's Washington, D.C., career, it may be this: No sooner does he start a job then people start talking about tapping him for another.
At various points in his career, D.C. insiders have talked about him as possibly running for president or becoming the speaker of the House.
They briefly talked about him as a potential replacement for Dick Cheney as George W. Bush's vice president, then as John McCain's running mate in 2008.
He was mentioned for a number of Cabinet spots, including Treasury secretary, and served as U.S. trade representative and the director of the Office of Management and Budget before becoming a U.S. senator in 2010.
Now, the "great mentioner" -- that nebulous and constantly changing group of cable news pundits and political gadflys -- has named Portman as a potential running mate to former Massachusetts governor and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Portman is, seemingly, on everyone's short list, a list that also includes Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.
With Romney formally launching the search for his running mate last week, Portman's name is destined to be part of a frequently mentioned list until Romney makes a pick.
To his admirers, Portman has the right resume and the background to be taken seriously as a vice presidential candidate. Republican consultant Barry Bennett, a former Portman aide, said, "He could be president from day one.'' To his detractors, Portman is as dull a candidate as Romney, prompting comedian Stephen Colbert to joke that a Romney-Portman ticket would be "like the bland leading the bland."
Portman, though, brushes off suggestions that he'll be tapped, saying, "I'm happy where I am."
"I don't expect to be asked," he said. "It's not something I'm looking to do. I feel like I've got my hands full here."
But then, a polite public resistance to career advancement has been a second theme of Portman's career. That's been the case since 2001, when President George W. Bush entered office, and people immediately began making noise about him taking a job in the new administration.
Portman resisted until Bush's second term, saying a job at the White House would be too draining on his family, who remained in Cincinnati. Then Bush tapped the former trade lawyer to serve as U.S. trade representative.
Within a year, Portman was promoted to director of the Office of Management and Budget. He held on there for one year, but, when he left in 2007, it was only a few moths before people began discussing him as a potential vice-presidential nominee for McCain. Instead, he ran for the U.S. Senate.
Now, in his first term in the Senate, he's viewed as competent, experienced, the "safe" pick.
"If Sarah Palin was the 'Hail Mary,' than Woody Hayes would've loved Rob Portman," said Bennett. "He's three yards up the middle.
"He's got a lot to offer. He's obviously very, very smart, he works very, very hard, he's got a lot of experience .... he's universally liked. He checks a lot of boxes."
But Portman, Bennett said, "would be perfectly content to serve in the Senate for the rest of his life. So this is not an ego thing for him."
"He's a talented guy," said David Winston, a Republican pollster who grew up near Dayton. "He's held a variety of different positions ... he's been in a lot of very significant roles. It's not surprising that when things pop up, his name gets mentioned."
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