Wednesday, October 6, 2004
Stand-in Portman center of attention
Congressman was 'Edwards' for V.P.
By Gregory Korte
Enquirer staff writer
CLEVELAND - U.S. Rep. Rob Portman stepped out on to the floor of Case Western Reserve University's Veale Center on Tuesday afternoon and was quickly surrounded by eight reporters from MSNBC to Newsweek to Scholastic News.
Everyone wanted to know what ammunition the Terrace Park Republican had given Vice President Dick Cheney during the six weeks of sparring sessions to prepare him for the debate.
Portman wasn't giving up any secrets, slyly demurring with disarming quips about his secrets of portraying Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. "I said 'y'all' a lot," he said.
"My role was to hit him as hard as I could on as many issues I could think of," he said. "It's pretty intimidating, when you think of it."
And then Portman went into spin mode: "The tough part was portraying John Edwards. Sometimes, as you know, the Kerry-Edwards folks have been known to change their positions, particularly on Iraq."
Portman then ran off for a series of live interviews (in order, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN and WLW radio before the debate, and CBS, PBS and Fox News after) in which he repeated the Bush team's talking point of the evening - that it was John Edwards, not Cheney - who called Saddam Hussein an "imminent threat" in 2002.
"It's like juggling knives," said Portman press aide Kyle Downey, trying to keep his boss on schedule Tuesday night. "It's all about precision timing."
Portman's high profile at the vice-presidential debate - both because of his role in the preparation and because he's the campaign's chief spokesman in the biggest battleground state - led to other questions: Is Portman interested in a Cabinet post during the second Bush Administration? Is he running for governor in 2006?
"I love what I'm doing," Portman said. "What's great about it is that I can stay involved in these important issues and still live in Ohio."
Portman's nice-guy reputation in Washington made it difficult for Democrats to be overly critical of his role as Bush's chief Ohio spin-meister. Brendon Cull, a spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party and a former aide to Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken, referred reporters to Kerry spokeswoman Kathy Roeder.
"Rob Portman goes out there and defends the indefensible," Roeder says.
"He's certainly loyal to the cause."
Cheney, Edwards trade sharp barbs
Case Western U. cashes in on occasion
Old warriors disagree, but they do so amiably
Cheney, Edwards spar over Iraq, truth-telling in their debate
Stand-in Portman center of attention
Campus becomes nearly carnival
Excerpts from Tuesday's vice presidential debate
Election 2004 section
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