LEBANON, Ohio (AP) - Former congressman Rob Portman said Wednesday that if he's elected to the U.S. Senate, he'll bring a fiscally conservative, pro-growth and bipartisan approach to help the country through tough economic times.
Portman kicked off his campaign at the Golden Lamb Inn in Lebanon, a historic restaurant and hotel owned by his family. He plans a two-day tour around Ohio.
The 53-year-old attorney is the first to jump into the 2010 race to succeed fellow Republican George Voinovich, who announced earlier this week that he will not seek a third term. Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher is also a possible candidate. He told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he'll spend the next week deciding whether to seek the Democratic nomination.
Portman was re-elected overwhelmingly six times in southern Ohio's seven-county 2nd District before leaving Congress in 2005 to become U.S. trade representative. He became President George W. Bush's budget director the next year, then resigned and returned to Ohio in 2007. Portman earned a reputation for a low-key, consensus-seeking style during nearly two decades in Washington as a congressman and official in both Bush administrations.
"I think it's critical in order to bring Ohio back," said Portman, who said he has a track record of bringing people together to get results.
At home, he's been popular with southwest Ohio conservative and evangelical leaders and across the mostly poor southern Ohio Appalachian region. Voinovich, 72, said Monday he wanted to focus his energy on the challenges facing Ohio and the country as he serves out his current term without campaigning and fundraising commitments. His decision gives another opportunity to Democrats to reach a filibuster-proof margin in the Senate.
Portman's Senate entry also takes him out of a potential 2010 Ohio governor's race field that could include fellow former congressman John Kasich on the Republican side. When Portman left Washington he said he wanted to spend more time with his family and he said that made his decision to run difficult because he has enjoyed being back home.
"But I also feel that given the tough situation we face as a state and as a nation, that it's time to step forward," Portman said. "I feel a duty."
Portman endorsed John McCain for president just before Ohio's GOP primary last year, and was often mentioned as a potential running mate. He joined McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at the Dayton, Ohio, rally where McCain introduced her as his choice.
Some political analysts pointed to Portman's close ties to an increasingly unpopular president as a handicap for him. There are also questions about his statewide appeal, but Portman has already been criss-crossing the state for months, speaking at GOP gatherings, to students and campaigning for McCain.
Other potential Republican Senate candidates include former Sen. Mike DeWine, while U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan and Zack Space are among other possible Democratic contenders.