Sen. Rob Portman says Republicans are more energized and excited about this year's presidential election than they were in 2008, and predicted the hard work of volunteers and activists would push Mitt Romney to victory on Nov. 6.
"There's something going on this year that's a little bit different," the Ohio Republican told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren Tuesday night. "We have a lot more energy and enthusiasm on our side than we had in 2008. And that's going to make a big difference."
Portman, who was on Romney's final list of running mates, said the former Massachusetts governor's candidacy has turned out people who have never been involved in politics and that the party, at least in Ohio, has had no trouble getting people out to rallies and involved in grassroots organizational efforts.
The senator also said he senses a noticeable shift among independents toward Romney, partly because of his debate performance last week against President Barack Obama and because they are beginning to understand the GOP nominee's positions are not how they have been portrayed by Obama campaign ads.
That may be one reason, he suggested, that the polls have flipped in Ohio, considered to be the top swing state in the country. Before the debate Obama was leading in the state by one to four percentage points, depending on the survey. But a recent Gallup poll now has Romney in the lead by 48 percent to Obama's 47 percent.
"These polls are great," Portman told Van Susteren. "But, again, what I'm sensing on the ground is that the undecided voters are finally hearing what Mitt Romney's actually for."
"Finally, folks are hearing straight from Mitt Romney, you know, unfiltered," he added. "And to the extent that continues, we're going to do very well here in Ohio."
Portman said "the reason [Romney] did so well [in the first debate] was because he was being Mitt Romney.
"Democrats, I think, thought that the caricature was going to show up, the one that they've been putting on TV."
He said he expects Romney to handle the next debate with Obama on Oct. 16 the same way he did the first — "which is just setting the record straight and letting the American people know where he really stands."
Portman acknowledged that Ohio's economy could influence the outcome on Nov. 6, depending whether voters believe Obama policies have actually helped the state.
But he said the state economy "is not as strong as it should be," a point that Romney campaign is making during campaign stops in the state over four days this week.
"We're a little bit better than the rest of the country, but the rest of the country is in trouble," Portman said. "We're in trouble. We understand that. We know we're not bringing back the jobs like we should."
Portman acknowledged, however, that the race in Ohio is essentially still a toss-up.
"I think we're going to win Ohio," he said. But he added, "It's going to be close. It always is in Ohio. We're a swing state."
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