Could Portman or Kasich be the nominee at the Cleveland convention?

Jul 13, 2014

Ok, so Cleveland will host the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Hooray for you, Republicans in Cincinnati say wearily, after trying and failing to win the big prize for the Queen City.

Now, the question is, who will come out of that convention at the Quicken Loans Arena as the GOP nominees for president and vice president?

There is a possibility – slim, at this point, but a possibility – that the first presidential nominating convention to be held in Ohio in 80 years will nominate an Ohioan, either for president or vice president.

The two highest profile Republicans in the state – Ohio Gov. John Kasich and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman – are two of the names swirling around the cauldron of speculation as possible candidates for the 2016 GOP nomination.

And neither one has ruled out the possibility of jumping into what could be a large field of GOP contenders.

Portman, the first-term senator from Terrace Park, opened the door open just a crack Thursday in a conference call with Ohio reporters.

“We’ve got to do some things to change the way Washington creates the disincentives for competitiveness and growth and instead create an environment for success,’’ said Portman, who is up for re-election to the Senate in 2016.

“If I don’t see other candidates providing that, who can win a general election, I will take a look at it, but, right now, I am planning to run for the Senate in Ohio,’’ Portman said.

That’s certainly not a declaration of candidacy, but neither is it the kind of definitive “no” that his fellow Ohioan, William Tecumseh Sherman, uttered in 1884 when the Civil War general was talked about as a potential Republican presidential candidate.

“I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected,’’ Sherman said. And that ended that.

There have been no Sherman-like statements out of Kasich either.

But Kasich first has to win re-election as governor this year. The polls show that he may well do that, with substantial leads over the Democratic candidate, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald. But polls can change. Kasich would probably need a substantial win over FitzGerald to be a viable candidate for 2016, when he would be a lame-duck governor.

Back in February, FitzGerald challenged Kasich to sign a pledge saying that the winner of the governor’s race would serve out his full four-year term.

Kasich blew him off.

“I don’t fall for gimmicks,’’ Kasich told the media. “It’s all silly politics.”

The buzz about Portman began earlier last week when the Republican National Committee (RNC) chose Cleveland over Dallas as the site of its 2016 convention. Some say Portman, who, this year, is the chief fundraiser for the GOP effort to win back the Senate, helped influence the RNC to bring its convention to Ohio.

Naturally, the people most excited about a possible Portman candidacy are Republicans in southwest Ohio, many of whom the 58-year-old Portman represented in the U.S. House for 12 years before leaving to become U.S. trade representative and then the budget director in George W. Bush’s White House.

“It’s an exciting prospect,’’ said Alex Triantafilou, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party. “Rob is one of the pre-eminent thinkers in American politics. With his resume, he is more than qualified.”

Kyle Kondik, communications director and political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said he’s not sure if Portman will run or not. Kasich, he said, is most likely interested in running.

“I don’t know if (Portman) is your prototypical presidential candidate; he’s not a charismatic type,’’ Kondik said. “But he is a smart, intelligent guy.”

Portman, Kondik said, “is a more important guy in the GOP than the average Republican senator.”

A year ago, Portman shocked the political world by coming out in favor of same sex marriage, telling the story of his son, Will, who is gay, and saying that his son and others like him should have the right to marry whomever they choose.

Portman was the first Republican senator to buck the GOP orthodoxy against same sex marriage, but, since then, three others – Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Arkansas and Susan Collins of Maine – have taken the same position.

With state laws banning same sex marriage being overturned by federal courts on a regular basis, the issue is likely to end up being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kondik said he thinks the damage to Portman for his position on the issue among social conservatives in GOP presidential primaries would be minimal, and might help him in a general election, drawing young voters and independents to the GOP presidential ticket.

Potential GOP candidates such as Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Ted Cruz of Texas have obvious appeal to the tea party wing of the Republican Party, Kondik said. But the party tends to nominate more mainstream Republicans like John McCain or Mitt Romney.

If former Florida governor Jeb Bush – a mainstream conservative who is son of one president and brother of another – decided to run, as many in the Republican Party establishment want him to do, it would be a game changer.

“If Jeb Bush runs, a lot of these people being talked about now are probably not going to run,’’ Kondik said. “A Rob Portman understands that he would be trying to occupy the same space in the GOP primaries as Jeb Bush.”

If Bush does not run, mainstream Republicans like Portman and Kasich might come into play, Kondik said.

What to watch for is this: If Kasich is re-elected easily and, after being sworn in for a second term in January, and then he starts making appearances in early primary and caucus states like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, you can rest assured he is seriously considering jumping into the race. The same goes for Portman.

Whether they run or not, they are bound to be major players at the 2016 convention in Cleveland.

And, when the GOP lands there, they don’t want the same result they had in 1936, the last time the party gathered in Cleveland to choose a nominee.

Back then, they nominated Alf Landon of Kansas, who couldn’t even win his home state and ended up with eight electoral votes to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 523.

This time, they want a candidate with a shot of winning; and whether a Republican from the key battleground state of Ohio on the ticket could do that remains to be seen.