Pasts, prologues, and Portman

PASTS, PROLOGUES, AND PORTMAN…. Of all the statewide candidates doing well this year, I consider Ohio’s Rob Portman, the Republican leading in the open U.S. Senate race, one of the more surprising.

While Dems make some efforts to tie various GOP candidates to Bush/Cheney, the task with Portman is altogether different. Portman didn’t just occasionally vote for the Bush agenda in Congress, Portman’s most recent experience in government was serving as Bush’s budget director. When we consider an era in which the Republicans turned huge surpluses into massive deficits, Portman was at the center of the policymaking process.

For that matter, he was Bush’s trade rep, in a state where Bush’s trade policies aren’t exactly popular.

“Rob Portman is the No. 1 George Bush look-alike in the country,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said this week. “I just can’t believe the voters are going to choose the candidate who more than anybody else in the whole country represents what got us into this situation.”

I can believe it; polls show Portman ahead, despite his background of failure. But what I find the most interesting is Portman’s response to the criticism.

After a tour here of the Andersons Inc., a diversified grain, rail and retail company that is a mainstay in northwestern Ohio, Mr. Portman dismissed suggestions that his time in the Bush White House and his image as a trusted adviser to the former president would be a significant liability or that voters would even be concerned about the past.

“What the people in this plant want to know is what you are going to do for me going forward,” Mr. Portman said. “That is all they care about, and frankly that’s what voters care about.”

“The world has moved on,” he added. “Maybe the Democrats haven’t.”

I find this endlessly fascinating. Most candidates seeking high office tell voters, “Look at all that I’ve accomplished, and vote for me.” Portman is telling voters, “Please overlook my record of public service, and vote for me anyway.”

“The world has moved on”? I wish we could, but we’re still cleaning up the mess Portman helped leave.

The whole strategy is almost comical. I’m trying to imagine an accused thief standing trial, and telling a judge, “Your honor, what matters is what I can do going forward. It’s best if we just moved on.”

Somehow, I don’t imagine that would go over well. I’m not sure why voters in Ohio should be any more persuaded.