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Sen. Rob Portman is in N.H., but not meeting Romney, he says

By Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times –

CONCORD, N.H. — Was he or wasn’t he? Did he or didn’t he?

Maybe, and no, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told reporters for the umpteenth time Saturday after he showed up for a GOP fundraiser in the same state as Mitt Romney, who is said to be considering him as a vice presidential nominee.

As he has done consistently, Portman declined to say whether he was being vetted by the Romney campaign. He said he had not met with Romney in New Hampshire and had no plans to do so. He said he does plan to meet with former President George H.W. Bush in Maine on Sunday.

Bush, who chose Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana as his running mate, is not known to be involved in the decision this time.

“It’s great to be here in New Hampshire, a classic swing state,” Portman said with a grin at the beginning of a news conference that preceded a private GOP fundraiser where he was speaking. Proceeds were going to the New Hampshire Republican Party.

Romney has been on vacation in Wolfeboro, N.H., for the past week, and is widely presumed to have spent time mulling his vice presidential choice. When the New Hampshire GOP announced that Portman would be in Concord, about an hour away, it stirred speculation that the senator might be planning a stealth visit to Romney’s summer house, which is sufficiently secluded that it is all but impossible to know who is coming or going.

But Portman said he was in New Hampshire for two reasons: first, to take his 17-year-old daughter on a college tour (including to his alma mater, Dartmouth) and second, to speak at the fundraiser. He also plans to speak at two Romney fundraisers in Boston on Monday.

He did take the opportunity to act as a surrogate for Romney, attacking President Barack Obama for his record on job creation, debt and deficit reduction and foreign policy, and saying that Romney’s experience with Bain Capital helped give him the economic vision to turn things around. And as the chairman of Romney’s campaign in Ohio, he described the race there as “a dead heat,” with the campaign focusing on 10 percent to 15 percemt of the electorate that remains undecided.

Obama just finished a two-day bus tour of Ohio. Independent polls have shown Obama with as much as a 9-point lead in Ohio.

“The good news is, we have a candidate running … who has a very clear idea of where this country ought to go in terms of the economy,” Portman said.

Asked whether he agreed with Romney’s statement that the penalty attached to Obama’s health care mandate is a tax, Portman used language quite similar to that used by the candidate. “It’s not up to me,” he said. “It’s up to the Supreme Court and they’ve said it’s a tax.” He said what’s important is not what it’s called but that “it’s still unaffordable” to individuals and to the government.

Portman did offer an opinion on the vice presidential sweepstakes. “Kelly Ayotte would be a good choice, by the way,” he said, referring to the senator from New Hampshire, who appeared with Romney on July Fourth.

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