WASHINGTON – As Mitt Romney spent Thursday attempting to knock the wind out of President Barack Obama's economy-focused address, two Republican senators largely considered to be in the top tier of potential vice presidential choices did the same.
Sens. Marco Rubio, of Florida, and Rob Portman, of Ohio, followed the Republican presidential nominee's lead and pre-butted Obama's speech in Ohio with appearances and statements throughout the day.
Rubio struck first while campaigning for Senate candidate George Allen at a flower shop in Arlington, Va. The Florida senator took aim at the president's recent analogy that blaming him for the brunt of the country's economic troubles is like ordering steak and a martini, taking off before the check comes and pointing the finger at others for running up the tab.
Rubio had his own analogy: "Imagine over the first three innings of a game a pitcher gives up four runs and then gets yanked and you put in another relief pitcher who goes on to give four runs himself and you lose 8-0. And the relief pitcher argues the reason he gave up four runs is because the guy before him gave up four runs," said Rubio. "That's ridiculous, right? That's the same thing that's happening here."
A few hours later, both Portman and Rubio took the stage just moments apart at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference here, giving those in attendance one of the best chances to date to compare the styles of the swing state senators.
"The president gave us a glimpse into the failed philosophy that he has chosen last week when he proclaimed that the private sector was doing just fine. He needs to get out more," said Portman, as Romney and Obama campaigned in different corners of his state. "I don’t think most people in Ohio and around the country agree with that … I don’t think most economists agree with that."
Portman and Rubio, who entered the Senate in 2010, represent states that will be pivotal for Republicans in November. Beyond that, their appearances here displayed their drastically different personalities. Rubio was the crowd favorite, exciting the group of conservatives to standing applause in an impassioned speech themed with American exceptionalism.
The soft-spoken Portman engaged the crowd with a much more somber and personal story about the role of his faith. He shared an anecdote about how he left Washington, giving up a top position in President George H.W. Bush's White House, to return to Ohio and care for his mother with terminal cancer.
"We also rely on something else as a country, and that's prayer and faith, to get through the most arduous of trials. As a nation, praying to God has sustained us in dark hours. We shouldn't stray away from the fact that our Judeo-Christian heritage is part of who we are," said Portman. While not rousing the crowd like when he took the stage, Portman did keep the 200-person crowd’s attention.
In terms of Romney surrogates, there are few who have been more willing than Portman to help the nominee. On Friday he'll be campaigning in North Carolina for the former Massachusetts governor, and on Sunday he'll be with him during his bus tour through Ohio. After the Ohio senator's speech today Portman defended Romney's comments suggesting that he is in favor of cutting teaching jobs and firefighters. "I think that's what Mitt Romney was referring to, the fact that by increasing public sector employees we're not going to see the economic growth we all hope for," he told a crowd of reporters.
The two senators today drew plenty of media attention given their status as front-runners to join the presidential ticket. But they have been silent about it, and nothing about that changed today.
Asked about his commanding victory as the top choice in a vice presidential straw poll last week, Rubio said, "I'm flattered, but I really want to serve alongside George Allen in the Senate."
“I hate to be boring," Portman said when asked a similar question about being Romney's No. 2. “I just don’t talk about that.”