Portman’s Prospects

Rob Portman announced his resignation as President Bush's budget director today, which set off speculation that the 51-year-old Ohioan is preparing to re-enter electoral politics. Portman served six-terms as the representative of the Cincinnati area before joining the administration in 2005, and according to the AP's write-up he made it clear today that he is considering a future bid for Governor or the U.S. Senate.

So which will it be and what are his chances?

Ohio's governorship, currently held by Democrat Ted Strickland, will be up in 2010, as will the Senate seat now held by Republican George Voinovich. Voinovich is set to turn 74 in 2010, and on the surface, Portman's better bet is to hope the Senator retires, since capturing an open Senate seat may be easier than unseating a potentially popular incumbent Governor. And if – as the odds now suggest – a Democrat wins the White House next year, history strongly suggests that the 2010 mid-term elections will benefit the Republicans, thus boosting the Ohio GOP's chances in the Senate race. Also, given the trajectory of Portman's career- in addition to his post in the current Bush administration and stint in Congress, he also served in the first President Bush's White House – he'd probably be a better fit in Washington than in Columbus. (That said, one of his predecessors in the job of budget director, Mitch Daniels, is now Indiana's Governor.)

Still, Republicans might want to push Portman towards running for his old House seat, in Ohio's Second District. For Portman, that would probably be a dead end, but the Second District takes in some conservative turf and by all measures the seat should be a GOP stronghold, even in the current occupant, Republican Jean Schmidt, has proven herself to be a thorough embarrassment and an electoral liability. (In the 2005 special election after Portman left, she nearly lost to Democrat Paul Hackett, and last year she staved off Democrat Victoria Wulsin by just 2,500 votes, a two percent margin.) This is a district the GOP should never have to think twice about, but Schmidt's continuing presence on the ballot puts it in jeopardy and creates a drag on her fellow Republican candidates.

The problem for the GOP is that Schmidt seems to have just enough support to hang on to the nomination. Last year, former Congressman Bob McEwen challenged her in the GOP primary and lost by five points. But Portman is in a different class. He would almost certainly beat her in the primary and go on to take the seat in the fall, thereby relieving the moribund Ohio GOP of at least one of its many headaches. Portman could always make a run for statewide office from his House seat, but it's doubtful that he'd consider going back after a series of high-profile jobs.

So it looks like we'll all have "Mean Jean" to kick around for a while longer.