Friday, May 30, 2008

Since Abraham Lincoln carried the state and won the 1860 presidential election, no Republican has been elected president without winning Ohio‘s electoral votes. If George W. Bush had lost Ohio in either 2000 or 2004, he would not have been elected or re-elected. Indeed, a shift of 1.1 percent of Ohio’s 2004 vote would have installed John Kerry in the White House. With polls projecting a tightly contested 2008 election, Ohio’s electoral votes could be as crucial this year as they were during the past two elections. That arithmetic represents one of several arguments in favor of John McCain’s choosing former Ohio Rep. Rob Portman to be his running mate.

Mr. Portman would bring other important attributes to the ticket, including the youthful appearance and vigor projected by the 52-year-old whitewater-kayaking enthusiast.

His conservative credentials are sterling. As a member of the House from 1993 to 2005, he compiled a lifetime voting rating of 89 percent from the American Conservative Union. His average annual rating from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was comfortably above 90 percent. His lifetime voting rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action was less than 6 percent. Before leaving Congress in 2005, he became a de facto member of the House Republican leadership and its official liaison to the White House.

Mr. Portman’s professional background is steeped in economics. During his dozen years in the House, he became an influential member of both the Budget Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. He left the House in 2005 to become the U.S. Trade Representative. He was instrumental in achieving congressional approval (217-215 in the House) of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. He later served as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

For all the partisanship that has enveloped the annual budget debate for years, it is worth noting that Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, a tough-minded Democrat from North Dakota, expressed regret when Mr. Portman resigned last August as OMB director. “He is a person of credibility and decency that commanded respect from both sides of the aisle,” Mr. Conrad noted at the time. It was during the first year of the Reagan, Clinton and Bush 43 administrations that crucial budget decisions were made. That will likely be the case next year as well, when Mr. Conrad will almost certainly return as budget chairman. In his constitutional role as president of the Senate, Mr. Portman would be in a position to exploit his incomparable budget background and his universally acknowledged reputation as a fair-minded conservative negotiator striving to achieve bipartisan agreement on the most difficult fiscal issues ever facing Congress.

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