Looking Under the Radar at GOP 2016

Perhaps you aren’t paying attention to Senator Rob Portman. The usual excuses. Your pipes are frozen. Your kids are still out of school and you’re about to lose your mind because your boss thinks you’re working at home and the kids think they’re getting extra family time. Or you’re out in the Southwest laughing at the rest of us.

Or maybe you’re watching the major leftwing media sources — MSNBC, Democracy Now~, The New York Times — and thinking that the problems for Chris Christy open the door for some Tea Party-type presidential candidate for the GOP, they’ll lose in the general election, and all would be well.

That would be because you’re not paying attention to Senator Rob Portman from Ohio. He almost became Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 and what remains of the GOP establishment probably now wishes he had. That’s because Portman has shown a willingness to negotiate with Democrats to get things done in the Senate while using his committee position (Budget and Fiscal Responsibility, Ranking Minority Member) to introduce GOP measures with no hope of going anywhere — for now. Yet a quick glance at a few of those bills shows a generous admixture of measures that make sense to me, a Progressive Democrat.

Two other characteristics make Portman a formidable challenger. Two years ago, one of his sons came out as gay. Senator Portman promptly issued a statement of support not only for his child, but for this son’s equal right to marry and enjoy the family that would make him most happy. Although no one in the GOP has joined him in this, Senator Portman also has not backed down. (His home state does not recognize equal marriage, but a judge there has ruled that marriages formed in other states must be acknowledged on death certificates. You remember that tragic story.)

The third thing that makes Portman a potent threat is that home state itself: he’s from Ohio. He’s from Cincinnati (I’ve known his work since his City Council days, now long ago for both of us), the conservative base in the state, but has managed to win statewide repeatedly. Even if Ohio loses a few electoral votes, it will probably remain a powerhouse for quite some time, because its population has major pockets of so many demographic communities that predominate in other parts of the country. You can spend time in Cincinnati and meet transplanted southerners, northerners, old union folks, corporate white collar types, and then head up the road to talk with farmers (both large-scale commercial and organic small-holders), truckers, and Rust Belt retirees. There are small private colleges and a large state university system. There are public schools and parochial schools, evangelicals and religious liberals. Even the strong Roman Catholic population combines both German and Irish characteristics, and honors the memory of Cincinnati’s beloved pastoral Cardinal Archbishop Joseph Bernardine.

So by now you can tell I grew up mostly in Cincinnati, and am writing from memory. But what I remember most — and what hasn’t changed — is that a Republican can’t win the White House without winning Ohio. And that puts Senator Rob Portman in a sweet position. Forget Scott Walker and Rick Perry: if the GOP can bring itself to nominate Rob Portman, the Dems will have their work cut out for them.


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