Ohio Senator Rob Portman has arguably one of the more difficult jobs in the Romney campaign - he's tasked with pretending to be Barack Obama during Mitt Romney's debate prep sessions. So when he predicts the President will do something in a debate, it's probably based on more than just simple intuition. In all likelihood, it's what he's been doing in every single one of Romney's debate prep sessions himself.
And if Portman's comments on today's "This Week" are any guide, Romney probably isn't enjoying those debate prep sessions very much. Speaking to ABC's Jake Tapper, Portman predicted a blisteringly negative performance by the president aimed at making up as much ground as possible against Romney after the president's previous - widely panned - debate performance.
The transcript of the relevant piece of Portman's conversation with Tapper is as follows:
TAPPER: And this morning, Washington Post reporter Dan Balz called you, quote, "the Romney campaign's most valuable player" for your multiple roles as Ohio point man and Obama stand-in. I'm assuming you're anticipating that President Obama will have a little bit more pep in his step in Tuesday's debate. How do you prepare for that?
PORTMAN: Well, I think you're right. I think President Obama is going to come out swinging. I think he's going to have to compensate for a poor first debate, and I think that'll be consistent with what they've been doing this whole campaign, Jake, which is running a highly negative ad campaign. They've spent hundreds of millions of dollars around the country, including a lot in Ohio, mischaracterizing Governor Romney's positions and misrepresenting him. And I think you'll see that again at the debate on Tuesday night.
Portman also told Tapper that the Romney campaign's focus on the crucial swing state of Ohio is a matter of choice, rather than of necessity.
"He can probably win the presidency without Ohio, but I wouldn't want to take the risk," Portman said. "No Republican has. And we're doing great in Ohio. If you look at the average of all the polls, it's about dead-even in Ohio right now. And importantly, the momentum's on our side. It's been terrific."
Portman is correct on both points - given that Romney arguably has successfully put away the states of Florida and Virginia (where he is listed as a favorite by the left-leaning poll guru Nate Silver), and may also take Colorado (where he leads according to the RealClearPolitics average), then his path to victory can go through several states other than Ohio. He could, for instance, take Wisconsin and Iowa, or Wisconsin and New Hampshire, or Wisconsin and Nevada and still win the Presidency.
At the same time, Portman's caution is also understandable. No Republican has won the presidency without the Ohio in the past 50 years, and exerting the effort to take one state is likely less complicated than taking two.