Ohio senator says economy remains key issue

DAN SEWELL Associated Press Published:

WEST UNION, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio Sen. Rob Portman said Friday the economy is the overriding issue for this year's elections, and that Republicans should stay focused on that, not gay marriage.

Portman said voters are most concerned about jobs, deficits and economic uncertainty, and that gives Mitt Romney the advantage for November. Recent speculation has mentioned Portman as a possible running mate for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Portman opposes same-sex marriage, but doesn't think President Barack Obama's statement in support this week changes the paramount issues.

"I don't think it's going to be an issue in this election, compared to jobs," he told The Associated Press. "I mean, what people care about is how are we going to turn this economy around and what do you do with these record debts and deficits."

Recent polls indicate Obama and Romney are virtually even in Ohio, an important swing state.

"The issue in Ohio is going to be which candidate can help turn things around and give a future for our kids and our grandkids. That's the worry I hear," Portman said. "I think it's clear that this gives Mitt Romney a huge opportunity."

He said Romney has financial experience and understanding of the economy and how to create jobs and stimulate growth.

"As Bill Clinton used to say, 'It's the economy, stupid.' Keep focusing on the economy," Portman said.

Portman was campaigning Friday across southern Ohio with Brad Wenstrup, the GOP nominee in the 2nd House District that Portman formerly represented. Wenstrup upset Rep. Jean Schmidt in the March primary.

At stops in Mt. Orab, West Union and Portsmouth, audience questions were mainly about the economy and the Obama administration health care overhaul.

Paul Hall, Brown County Republican chairman, said in a county with double-digit unemployment, the economy ranks way above gay marriage as an issue, although Obama's support won't help him in a swing county that John McCain carried in 2008.

"That won't play well here," Hall said. "We are part of the Bible Belt."

At a 19th-century inn in this Adams County town, Wenstrup was asked his positions on some social issues.

Wenstrup replied that he is against same-sex marriage, is anti-abortion, and in favor of gun ownership rights.

Meanwhile, Portman was asked by an audience member if he'd accept if asked to run as vice president.

"I plan to stay where I am, I really do," replied Portman, who was an early backer of Romney's candidacy and has campaigned for him in other states.

Wenstrup pledged to work in Washington to fight prescription drug abuse, a major problem in the southern Ohio region. Wenstrup, a podiatrist who served as an Army combat surgeon in Iraq, faces little-known Democrat William Smith in November in the district where Portman won election seven times.

Portman acknowledged he had endorsed Schmidt, but said he had known Wenstrup for years and thinks his medical and military background will help in Congress. Wenstrup said he was pleased to have the opportunity to campaign with Portman, although he has also has big plans for Saturday -- Wenstrup is getting married.

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