LEBANON, Ohio — For better or for worse, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s political future has become tied to same-sex marriage.
The Republican who was on Mitt Romney’s running mate short list two years ago is considering his own 2016 presidential run. But such a plan could be complicated by the fallout from Portman’s newfound support for same-sex marriage – the reversal upset some conservatives who oppose it. Some of them have pledged to oppose his next candidacy, too – whether for re-election to the Senate or for the presidency.
The dramatic change added a new dimension to Portman’s persona, often described as bland. It made him the first Republican senator to support gay marriage, a position that he said followed some family soul-searching. Portman’s then-college-aged son Will, had revealed to his parents that he is gay.
Add the personal decision to Portman’s resume – congressman, U.S. trade representative, White House budget chief and senator from electorally important Ohio – and what emerges is a unique potential candidacy in the wide-open field of GOP presidential hopefuls.
Portman says he gets questioned about his support for gay marriage a lot and is not hesitant about discussing it.
“Every week, sometimes every day, somebody will talk to me about it,” Portman said in a recent AP interview, wife Jane at his side.
Article continues below“I feel very comfortable in taking a position of respecting people for who they are,” he added, “which is what I think ultimately same-sex marriage is about.”
Nationally, it’s not clear whether Portman’s support for gay marriage would be an obstacle for his presidential ambitions.
A Gallup poll this year found support for legal recognition of same-sex marriages at a record high, with 55 percent in favor of it. Republicans remain broadly opposed, with just 30 percent favoring legal recognition for marriages between same-sex couples, but support has increased greatly over the last few decades. At the same time, Gallup’s data show that 78 percent of Americans under the age of 30 support legal gay marriages, suggesting that support will continue to grow.
A CBS News poll in February of this year found that 47 percent of Republicans said they would not ever vote for a candidate who did not share their views on same-sex marriage, suggesting the issue carries less weight with GOP voters than immigration or abortion.
Some conservatives suggest Portman’s position is meant to give him more moderate appeal for a general election.
While there’s even been talk about a primary opponent for Senate, his electoral experience and fundraising ability seem to make that unlikely.
Phil Burress, who heads the Citizens for Community Values in the Cincinnati suburb of Sharonville, stated on the group’s website that “Portman should step down before the 2016 election so that conservatives can support a pro-life, pro-natural marriage candidate.” Portman says he remains anti-abortion.
Meanwhile, the National Organization for Marriage has said it will actively seek to defeat Portman in 2016, whether for re-election or for president.
A majority of Ohio voters in the midterm elections still oppose same-sex marriage, according to an exit poll conducted for the AP and the television networks. Just over half the voters indicated they were against the idea, while about 40 percent were supportive.
Article continues below“That’s OK,” Portman said, speaking of those who oppose him because of gay marriage. But Portman said he thinks the economy, jobs and national security will be more dominant issues in the next election.
Doug Gross, a former chief of staff for Republican Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa, said Portman’s marriage position “would be problematic” for a segment of caucus voters when Iowa begins its first-in-the-nation presidential nominating process, but not so much to prevent him from doing well there.
The Republican National Committee’s national committeeman in New Hampshire, Steve Duprey, said Portman is the kind of little-known candidate with solid credentials, particularly on fiscal issues, that could emerge in his early primary state.
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