Ohio's Portman rallies in Lancaster

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LANCASTER, Pa. -- At a campaign rally here, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman focused his remarks on Mitt Romney and the president Republicans hope to unseat.

But a number of voters said it was the GOP senator from neighboring Ohio -- and reports that he is a leading vice presidential contender -- who drew them to an event for a presidential candidate they already support.

"I just would like to see who Portman is," said Sally Fry, a teacher who lives in nearby Lititz and one of about 200 who turned out to the rally. "To see what philosophies and what else he wants to share about his positions because he's a possible vice presidential candidate."

Mr. Portman, who was elected to the Senate in 2010 after serving in the House and the administration of President George W. Bush, delivered a speech that hewed closely to Mr. Romney's central argument: that the presumptive Republican nominee has the business and governing know-how to turn around an economy mishandled by President Barack Obama.

The crowd clapped when he raised and then dismissed the idea that Pennsylvania may have fallen from the list of battleground states after Mr. Obama's 10-point victory in 2008.

"I've got a feeling you're going to prove them wrong," Mr. Portman said. "Pennsylvania voters are common-sense, conservative voters. They get it. They know our country's headed in the wrong direction. They know we have an opportunity with Mitt Romney to turn things around, and Pennsylvania's going to come through, isn't it?"

Mr. Portman is not the only subject of vice-presidential speculation deployed by the campaign during Mr. Romney's trip to England, Israel and Poland. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty campaigned in Ohio on Monday, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio addressed a crowd in Des Moines, Iowa, by cell phone on Saturday after airplane trouble prevented him from appearing in person.

The Ohio senator spoke as a neighbor to the crowd in Lancaster, prefacing a point with: "Manufacturing -- at the heart of what we do in Ohio and Pennsylvania."

Later, in a telephone interview, Mr. Portman said he believes Mr. Romney has a "very good" chance of winning Ohio and Pennsylvania.

"I think that there are a lot of people who have not yet decided, who are in the middle, who tend to make the difference in our states, who are looking for something new," he said.

"They do want to know enough about Governor Romney's background and his experience and, most importantly, his policies to be able to visualize a new and better way, and I think that's the challenge of the campaign."

Asked if the years remaining in his Senate term would make him hesitate to accept an offer to share the ticket, Mr. Portman said he expects to remain in his job.

"I really view myself as staying in the Senate," Mr. Portman said. "I'm just assuming I'm going to stay where I am, stay in the Senate, continue to represent Ohio. I got elected in 2010 for a six-year term. I look at it as an opportunity to serve in an important job. I didn't run to run for something else."

As people chatted before Mr. Portman's remarks, Bob Crosby of Greensburg, an independent voter who supports Mr. Romney, said the vice-presidential choice could be telling.

"I just would like to see who Mitt Romney might pick as a running mate," Mr. Crosby said. "I think that's an important decision, and I think he has good experience as a businessman picking people to be around him."

Ms. Fry, the teacher from Lititz, said she would like to see Mr. Romney select "someone with a little more oomph, personality."

But, she added: "I'm sure if Romney chooses him, I'll have faith in that."

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Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141. Clara Ritger is an intern with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association.


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