LEBANON, OH -- Ohio Sen. Rob Portman said Monday he has "no idea" whether Mitt Romney has chosen a running mate, a decision that could come this week before the presumptive Republican presidential nominee takes his campaign overseas.
Portman spoke to supporters and media at the Romney Victory Office here ahead of President Obama's campaign stop in Cincinnati today. It is the second time in the past three days the Ohio senator has campaigned for Romney in the southwest corner of his home state, an area that will be pivotal in deciding whether the Buckeye State goes for Romney or Obama this fall.
Despite his continuing role as a high profile surrogate for the campaign, he has remained mum on any speculation about the prospects of him taking on a bigger role as running mate.
A report from The New York Times this morning suggested that the former Massachusetts governor may have already chosen his No. 2, but senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom has since told reporters that no decision has been made. But -- just to keep the VP buzz at a heightened alert -- Ferhnstrom told the Associated Press, "Technically it could, but the governor hasn't made a decision. It will only happen after he makes a decision."
Near the top of almost every list of possible running mates is Portman, whose deployment today to bracket the president is another sign of the high esteem with which he is held by the Romney. But the first-term senator again declined to divulge any information about his VP prospects, and if he's the guy, he doesn't know it yet.
"I have no idea," Portman told reporters when asked if he thought Romney had made a decision. "I also have to add that people vote for the presidential candidate, not the VP," he said.
Portman's deployment in Ohio in recent days has focused on refuting the negative ads running against Romney in a state that is more saturated with political ads than nearly anywhere else in the country. "He's attacking Mitt Romney on a personal basis," he said of the president. "Why? Because he doesn't want to talk about his record."
Portman, who held today's event adjacent to The Golden Lamb, a hotel and restaurant owned by his family that is the longest continuously running business in the state, has sought to portray Obama as out of touch with small business owners.
"He's in Cincinnati today, I'm glad he's coming to Ohio. I really am. I hope he'll go on the shop floor and talk to some workers in the greater Cincinnati area. I hope he'll come out to Warren County and talk to some small business owners," he said. "But if he does that, you know what he's going to find, he's going to find the private sector is not doing just fine."
It is going to be a busy week in the state. On Wednesday, Romney will hold fundraisers in the state and a rally in Bowling Green, OH. On Wednesday, former Florida governor Jeb Bush will be here to fundraise for Romney. But with the Senate in session, it is unlikely Portman and Romney will be together again until after Romney gets back from his overseas trip.
The amount of attention Portman's home state will get between now and the election is an advantage that has helped lift him to the top of VP list. It is something that is not lost on him.
"Southwest Ohio is incredibly important, we're going to be in the middle of it again...given where we are as a country, the direction we're heading, for our kids,for our communities and for our country, we have got to have a change," Portman said. "And that's where Warren County, greater Cincinnati, southwest Ohio, are going to play a key role."