Thursday, March 27, 2008

On Vice Presidents: Rob Portman

So continuing the spate of vice presidential speculation, Bob Novak reports that the frontrunner for John McCain's vice presidential slot may be former Ohio Congressman, U.S. Trade Representative, and Budget Director Rob Portman:

McCain won't pick a running mate any time soon. But the front-runner in the VP derby may be Rob Portman -- former Ohio congressman, former U.S. trade representative and former OMB director. He appears to have fewer negatives than any other possibility.
Regular readers will recall that I predicted Portman would be strongly considered more than a month ago. As I noted at that time, Portman is a rising star both in Ohio, and for the Republican party nationwide. While he doesn't have as high a profile as some of the other contenders -- largely because he hasn't served as either a governor or Senator -- there are plenty of reasons that Novak tabs him as the favorite.

Portman brings strong economic policy credentials based on his service on the Budget Ways and Means Committees while in Congress, and as Budget Director and Trade Representative. The latter position also gives him some foreign policy credentials -- perhaps more than most of the other names on McCain's short list. Like Chris Cox, he's a quick study, and strong on policy specifics -- including health care, which is likely to be a major issue in the campaign.

Portman is also a Reagan conservative -- one who'll satisfy all parts of the Republican coalition. And his biggest asset is that he's the strongest Republican in a critical swing state -- Ohio. The candidate who won Ohio has won the presidency in the last 11 elections. Ohio currently looks bluer than any time in recent memory however, as Democrats swept the state in 2006.

Can Portman bring Ohio to the GOP column? That's hard to say -- but he probably has a better chance than Cox would of bringing California. Further, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland is a strong contender for the Democratic vice presidential nomination, which would complicate the matter.

In contrast to Cox -- the other former Republican House member turned administration official mentioned for the VP slot -- Portman has a pretty strong reputation as a team player. While he too, has been a leader on conservative reforms, his reputation has been of someone willing to set aside his priorities to put the team agenda first. For that reason and for others, he'd probably make a better fit on a McCain ticket than would Cox.

The wrinkle is that Portman continues to maintain that he doesn't want the job. Rather, he seems to be focused on seeking the governorship in 2010, which would give him an excellent perch to seek the presidency himself -- either in 2012 or 2016.

On Vice Presidents: Chris Cox

The amazing thing about the recent 'Chris Cox boomlet' is that it has not so far touched upon his compelling personal story:

[Cox] had sped through the University of Southern California in three years, then simultaneously gotten a Harvard law degree and MBA. At 25 he was ensconced at a prestigious clerkship with a federal appeals judge in Hawaii. It was August of 1978, and Cox and a friend decided to explore the rain forest on the island of Molokai. They were inching through mud at about five miles per hour in a rented jeeplike contraption when a wheel caught and the vehicle overturned. Cox's friend was thrown clear, but Cox was trapped underneath, with the weight of the jeep on him. His back was broken, a quadriceps muscle was severed, and he was paralyzed from the waist down.
There's an obvious parallel to McCain here. Having your spine snapped and body shattered by a rolled jeep isn't the same as by the Viet Cong, but Cox is probably one of few men who can relate to McCain's experience. While Cox eventually regained his ability to walk, he's been in pain every day of his life since the accident. And where McCain can't lift his arm above his shoulder, Cox is basically forced to stand most of the day, since it's too painful for him to sit for extended periods.

Cox would bring some clear strengths as a vice presidential candidate. He's extremely bright and creative, with an impressive resume and legislative track record. He fathered the Internet Tax Freedom Act, as well as the Securities Litigation Reform Act (which made it harder for trial lawyers to bring frivolous suits against companies). He speaks Russian fluently -- even starting a business translating Pravda in the '80s. He's worked on export controls, and chaired the House Homeland Security Committee. importantly, his conservative credentials are impeccable. During his time in the Reagan White House, he helped select Scalia, Kennedy, and Bork for the Supreme Court.

Cox has also been something of a maverick -- though perhaps not to the extent McCain has. He voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment, against legislation to prompt hospitals to check on the status of aliens that they treat, and against a measure to put the onus on banks to curb internet gambling. He also earned a reputation as more of a China hawk than most other House Republicans, and he was one of few votes against normalizing trade relations with Vietnam in 2002. He's also a pro-life Catholic, which should earn McCain some support in this bellwether swing constituency.

One downside to a Cox nomination is that he probably wouldn't swing a state to McCain's column. Although polls currently show California as being close, it's hard to imagine that McCain could win a state that Bush lost by 9 points in 2004, and which hasn't voted Republican in 20 years.

But the real challenge for Cox might be his reputation among those who have worked with him as being at times too much of a loner, and too uncompromising. While he's consistently pursued conservative principles, there have been some who wished he was more of a 'team player.' That's another trait he shares with McCain -- but it's hard to imagine the ticket will be improved by having two such personalities.

Read the entire article to get a good idea of what Cox is all about.