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Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has long been pegged as just the type of “boring white guy” who Mitt Romney is likely to pick as his vice-presidential running mate, given the Republican presidential candidate’s desire to avoid the drama and controversy that surrounded John McCain’s choice of the decidedly un-boring Sarah Palin.Portman, a former U.S. trade representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget, certainly appears a tad boring on paper, and the comedian Stephen Colbert has quipped that a Romney-Portman ticket would be an example of “the bland leading the bland.” But there’s more to the 56-year-old senator than meets the eye.
Here, four surprising facts about Rob Portman:
1. He’s an astonishing mimic
Portman is a virtual “method actor” when it comes to impersonating his fellow politicians, which is why he’s been recruited to play a veritable pantheon of Democratic giants in presidential and vice-presidential debate preparations. He played Barack Obama when McCain was prepping for his 2008 debate, and in past election seasons has taken turns as Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, and John Edwards. He even played Hillary Clinton when Rick Lazio was running against her to become the junior senator of New York in 2000. “No wig, no dress,” Lazio says. “But otherwise very effective.”
2. He owns a 200-year-old haunted hotel
Portman is the proud co-owner of the the Golden Lamb Inn in Lebanon, Ohio, “the oldest continually operated business in Ohio,” says Andrew Kaczynski at BuzzFeed. Twelve presidents have visited the hotel, as have Charles Dickens and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The hotel is also rumoured to be haunted by a ghost, an attraction that is advertised by the establishment with a letter posted outside a room containing a plastic doll lying on a child-sized bed. (“The restless spirit of a young girl materialises in this small room,” the letter states.) Portman says his mother “used to say there were some ‘interesting’ sounds she heard at night, including what she said sounded like a chain dragging on the carpet.” He admits, “Now that was some years ago, but, just saying.”
3. He learned Spanish from Mexican cowboys
Portman is fluent in Spanish, which he learned from Mexican cowboys while working on border ranches in high school and college. Portman has a taste for the great outdoors, and is known to be an avid hunter and fisherman. He has “kayaked the entire 1,900-mile length of the Rio Grande,” says Kaczynski, and once smuggled a kayak into China to brave the Yangtze River.
4. Lethal Weapon 2 may have saved his life
On a kayaking adventure earlier this year in Chile, Portman found himself in serious trouble when his boat capsized and he dislocated his shoulder. He freed himself of the kayak, but couldn’t use his right arm to swim. Portman says he thought of the 1989 movie Lethal Weapon 2, in which Mel Gibson pops his dislocated shoulder back into place by slamming it against a file cabinet. “Honestly, that was what flashed through my mind,” says Portman: “Mel Gibson.” Portman grabbed a large rock in the river with his left hand, hurled his right shoulder at it, and was able to swim to shore.
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