Convention likely to showcase Portman, Kasich

Will bring money into state, but won’t guarantee Ohio for GOP.

Ohio Republicans see the 2016 convention as a grand opportunity to showcase the state’s economic recovery and its national stars, including possible presidential candidates Sen. Rob Portman and Gov. John Kasich.

“Because they are statewide representatives in the mother of all swing states, Portman and Kasich will be able to have a platform to shape some of the conversations about the party and its agenda when the convention is at center stage,” said Kevin Madden, who served as an adviser to Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Portman and Kasich also will have a unique opportunity to dominate much of the news coverage at the Cleveland convention in a way no Ohio politician has been able to do so since Republican Sen. Robert Taft in 1948.

But landing the convention won’t necessarily win Ohio for the Republicans. President Barack Obama won Florida in 2012 despite the fact that Tampa hosted the 2012 Republican National Convention, while Romney carried North Carolina even though the Democrats held their convention in Charlotte.

In fact, since 1960 the state that hosted the party’s convention has gone against that party in the general election more often than it has voted with that party.

Still, the convention could serve as a energizer for Republicans in Ohio and an economic boon. For a week in 2016, 30,000 additional people in downtown Cleveland will pour a couple of hundred million dollars into the city’s economy.

Although Republicans chose Cleveland for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it is in swing state Ohio, the city itself remains Democratic country.

“The convention is in the most heavily Democratic portion of Ohio, and it’s just going to be saturation coverage for weeks,” said Larry Sabato, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia. “Well, that means that maybe Republicans will only lose the area by 30 points instead of 40 points. Maybe they marginally reduce their losses, which of course, helps them statewide.”

More certain is the political bump for Portman and Kasich.

“It always sort of raises your profile when you get to host,” said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst at the non-partisan Cook Political Report in Washington. “And Kasich certainly would be considered the host.”

Palin alternative

Analysts say Portman and Kasich can help Republicans present Americans with a more soothing alternative to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose firebrand conservatism alienates even some members of their own party.

Just last week, Texas Republican Chairman Steve Munisteri indicated to the Dallas Business Journal that national Republicans were nervous about a plank added to the state GOP platform last month that called for therapy to help gay people become heterosexual.

“The setting itself isn’t the message,” said James Ruvolo, former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. “But you can make the message fit the setting. If they are trying to appear more moderate, a place like Ohio is going to be easier to pull off than Texas.”

With the convention in Ohio, Portman and Kasich will likely get coveted speaking platforms. For his part, Portman can emphasize his support for conservative goals such overhauling the complex federal tax code and reducing federal spending even as he bucks party conservatives because of his support for same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, Kasich can offer what his allies claim is a conservative approach to government even though he has bucked tea party conservatives by expanding Medicaid to tens of thousands of low-income people in Ohio.

“I think it highlights the governor and his brand of conservatism and his brand of governing,” said Columbus area Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Twp. “It will naturally show off Ohio’s success over the last several years, its continued success, and I think that’s probably a good theme for the party as it tries to regain the White House.”

Assuming neither Kasich nor Portman becomes the party’s choice for president, having the convention in their home state also probably increases the chances that one of them will get tapped to be a vice presidential running mate.

“It wouldn’t hurt them,” Ruvolo said. “It will be on the plus side of the ledger, but not among the top three reasons” they might be picked.

Will they run?

As soon as Republicans tapped Cleveland, both Kasich and Portman found themselves peppered by questions they might run for president. During a campaign trip in Ohio, Kasich repeatedly brushed off questions about whether he’d run, saying he was concentrating on his re-election in November.

Portman, on a conference call from Washington, D.C., tried to joke about his presidential ambitions, saying he thought “Dave Joyce is thinking about it,” referring to a northeast Ohio Republican congressman.

But Portman, while saying he plans to run for re-election in 2016, left the presidential window open a little.

If he did not “see other” presidential contenders offer solutions to job creation and tax reform, Portman said, then he “will take a look at” running for president.

The latest Quinnipiac Poll did not list either Kasich or Portman as presidential contenders. In a mock primary of likely GOP voters, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky led all GOP candidates with 11 percent, followed by New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. About 20 percent said they were undecided.

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