Senator Rob Portman looks back on his past role as presidential debate coach, sparring partner

Posted at 4:30 PM, Sep 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-29 19:47:59-04

CLEVELAND — You will never find Ohio Senator Rob Portman on stage at a comedy club doing impersonations but that's not to say he hasn't done his share of them, in fact, he's doubled as Al Gore, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards to name a few.

"I have played the role of the opponent in the presidential debates I don't know for four or five times now," Portman said of his role in helping candidates get ready for debates dating back to Bob Dole in 1996.

It's a job that takes a great deal of study not only knowing what the opposing candidate is likely to bring up but also how they are likely to act once they're on that stage like the last time Cleveland played host to a vice-presidential debate in 2004.

"It was Dick Cheney - John Edwards I played the role of John Edwards in the debate preparation and I repeated the words Haliburton about 300 times," Portman said. "Which is basically what happened in the debate."

One of Portman's biggest pickups though was something he noticed in getting ready for the 2000 presidential debate.

"This was back with George W. Bush when he was still Governor of Texas, he was running for president and he asked me to play the role of Al Gore and in one of the debate preps I came up to him in a rather aggressive way and he said he'll never do that and sure enough he did it."

This came in the town hall debate as Bush was answering a question about knowing how to get things done Gore got off his stool stopping right in front of Bush who stopped, looked Gore in the eye, nodded, and finished his thought.

"So President Bush was ready for it and it was probably a moment that helped him," he said.

With his own race to run and his own debate to prepare for Portman sat out 2016 so what about 2020 were there any calls from the Trump campaign?

“No I haven't been asked this year and it's probably best that I hang up the spikes.”