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Ohio's Portman plays down Romney campaign meetings

CINCINNATI (AP) — Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is tamping down running mate speculation that flared up this week after he was in Boston with Mitt Romney campaign officials.

Portman said his time in Boston on Monday was to help with fundraising and to discuss strategy in the Republican presidential candidate's campaign. A weekend trip to New Hampshire was in response to that state's Republican Party's request that he speak at a GOP fundraiser there, he said, and he also was to make some college visits in the region with his daughter.

"While I was in the area, I also did something the Romney campaign has been asking me to do for some time, which is to do some fundraisers for them. I did those in Boston," Portman told Ohio reporters during a conference call Thursday. "So it was a trip that I planned for a while, and it really has nothing to do with the vice presidential issue."

The longtime congressman who served as U.S. trade representative and budget chief in the George W. Bush administration is widely believed to be among the top contenders to be Romney's running mate, so his trips to New Hampshire and Boston drew a lot of attention from those following the "veepstakes." Portman has said repeatedly he's happy in his current role, and is focused on helping the Romney campaign any way he can.

Ohio was targeted early by both sides in the presidential race for heavy television advertising and frequent campaign visits. President Barack Obama's campaign said Thursday he will return to the swing state Monday, in Cincinnati.

The state's Democratic Party chairman, Chris Redfern, said he doubted adding Portman to the ticket would help Romney, saying the senator isn't even well-known throughout Ohio.

"Rob Portman may have spent some time in New Hampshire and Boston recently, but he ought to spend some time in Toledo," Redfern said.

Portman also pointed Thursday to a proposal he is promoting with Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill for a way to relax tariffs on some materials imported by U.S. manufacturers. Portman says the proposed changes would help job creators through transparent, merit-driven procedures for tariff relief.

McCaskill is facing a tough re-election race. Teaming with her underlines Portman's contention that he tries to get things done in Washington by reaching across party lines.

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