COLUMBUS, Ohio—Being on the short list for vice president has its perks: The media take an interest in your every move, you sell off those extra copies of your memoir, and everyone wants to hear your stance on the issues.
But as the remaining hopefuls are discovering, it also takes work.
"I've spent a lot of time around the state, I'm chairing the campaign for Gov. Romney here," Republican Sen. Rob Portman said Tuesday after meeting with local residents at a farm near Shelby, Ohio. Portman is considered to be one of the top three contenders to become Mitt Romney's running mate. "I'm going to work my heart out for him no matter what. And I really believe that is what it comes down to."
Since Portman endorsed Romney during the primaries in January, he has been a tireless advocate for the former Massachusetts governor. He has appeared publicly with Romney several times, he traverses his state regularly on Romney's behalf, and he continues to raise serious money for the campaign.
Portman truly shines in one-on-one interactions with voters. His unimposing, soft-spoken style is disarming, and he takes every opportunity to make personal appeals on Romney's behalf.
While at the farm near Shelby on Tuesday, Portman struck up a conversation with 77-year-old grandmother Phyllis Alt, who bought the land with her husband in 1959.
"You two built something on your own," Portman told her, his hand resting gently on the woman's shoulder. "You built this."
Portman was making a reference, of course, to one of Romney's current attacks against President Barack Obama. While the Romney campaign has effectively pushed its message with sleek ads and roaring rhetoric, Portman has a gift of translating the same message on an intimate and individual level.
Portman also makes himself readily available to reporters—and cannily targets most of his responses to include a plug for Romney's campaign.
When asked if selecting him as vice president could help Romney win Ohio in November, for instance, Portman used it as a segue to tout the Republican hopeful's economic plan.
"I leave that up to the Romney campaign to talk about the VP process," he began. "Whether Ohio's going to be in the Romney or Obama column will depend to me not on the VP pick, but the economic plans of the Obama administration versus the economic plans of the Mitt Romney administration should he be elected. And I think most Ohioans are going to choose the fresh start."
After his tour of the farm on Tuesday, Portman stopped by the Romney Victory Center in Richland County. After a 10-minute pep talk to volunteers, Portman sat with phone bankers and made calls to prospective voters. When he finished, one of the volunteers sitting next to him, Gary Johnson of Ashland, offered some well-intentioned, if backhanded, praise for the senator.
"You're really different from how everyone says you are," the man told Portman. "You've got a really great personality."