While political pundits and players focused this week on U.S. Sen. Rob Portman as the leading choice for running mate for Republican presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, Portman insisted that he already has the job in which he can best help the state of Ohio.
Portman's show of modesty didn't end the vice presidential talk. If anything, the buzz gained volume.
He is one of several Republicans who are said to be under consideration for the Republican vice presidential nominee.
In a regular telephone conference call with Ohio reporters Thursday, Portman said, "I love what I'm doing. I do appreciate the honor of representing our state at these critical times, and I plan to keep doing that.
"I think my service to the state is best performed right here," he said.
He said he wants to work with whoever is elected president in November to tackle what he called "the twin challenges of our time" -- an anemic economic recovery and the debt and deficit "before it bankrupts the country."
"That's my goal. It's not to be seeking another office," Portman said.
But he didn't say he wouldn't take the job if asked.
National political pundits and Republican party leaders say Portman is, or at least should be, on a very short list, while Democrats said he comes with baggage: his work on trade and the budget under former President George W. Bush.
"I think he's just the perfect candidate," Ohio GOP Chairman Robert Bennett said Thursday.
He said he based that opinion on Portman's long electoral experience, his reputation for reaching across the political aisle, his work in the White House on foreign trade and the budget, and the fact that Ohio is an important battleground state.
But Bennett said he didn't know whether Romney has asked Portman to be his running mate. He noted that Portman was an early endorser of Romney and said the two of them seem to have a rapport.
This week, Obama political strategist David Axelrod called Portman "the architect" of Bush's budget policies, while former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, called him "a very conservative guy with good manners" who leads some people to think he's more moderate than he is.
Portman switched on his politically confrontational side when asked to respond Thursday.
"I'm interested to hear that both Ted Strickland and apparently Mr. Axelrod last night took some shots at me. I guess they're worried," Portman said.
In Thursday's telephone conversation, Portman said he's proud of his service as budget director. He said he proposed a balanced budget over five years.
He said the deficit the year he was budget director was $161 billion, compared to about $1.2 trillion now.
"If they'd like to talk about budgets, I'd love to have that discussion," he said.
Portman, 56, was elected seven times to Congress from suburban Cincinnati and was Bush's trade representative from May, 2005, to May, 2006, and director of the Office of Management and Budget until June, 2007.
He returned to electoral office after soundly defeating Ohio Democrat Lee Fisher in 2010 to succeed Republican George Voinovich as senator.
(Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroytheblade.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)