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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

Interview

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GREGORY: All right. I want to get to Dee Dee's point in just a minute. I want to turn though for a moment while we have into Mitt Romney's sparring partner to prepare for the debates, he's Ohio Senator Rob Portman. You're so many things but at the moment, you're best known for being the prize sparring partner.

Senator, always good to have you on the program. I'd like to have you comment on what we've been…

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (Ohio): Thanks David.

GREGORY: …discussing here which is this Iran story. This is going to be a big topic. And I guess-- my big question is where beyond the rhetoric does President Obama-- do President Obama and-- and Governor Romney differ on the path forward to Iran?

SEN. PORTMAN: Well, first, I don't know if it will be a big story because both the White House and the Iranians who said it's not true, it sounds to me actually from what Helene just said that it's another example of a national security leak from the White House, you know, and they've done a lot of that. But, look, I think what you're going to see is Governor Romney lay out a clear vision for how to get Iran to do the right thing, which is to stop its progress toward a nuclear weapon.

We're four years closer to it. What the president has tried has not worked. It's true that we started to-- we started to put sanctions in place, but, David, as you know, that's because congress pressured the president to do it. Other countries pressured us to do it. France was ahead of us on this. The other thing that gets interesting about this story, if it's accurate, is that it sounds like the U.S. is taking a position that we're likely to jettison our allies. And, as you know, there are talks going on right now, the P5+1 talks, the last thing we would want to do is to abandon our allies in this and to make it a-- a one-on-one negotiation. In fact, some of those allies, as I said earlier, have actually been more forward leaning than we've been to be sure these sanctions were tough and put in place.

GREGORY: Let's talk about Ohio, the state you represent. It seems to be kind of a firewall right now for the president. If they can hold Ohio, as you well know, it becomes very difficult for Governor Romney electorally the-- in the Electoral College to get to 270. Here are some key stats here that we've put together--of course, electoral votes are 18. No candidate since JFK has won the White House without Ohio. You know that early voting started October 2nd. The ad spending is staggering--a hundred and sixty mi-- sixty six million dollars. I was there this week, and you can't miss the ads, that for-- that's for sure. The president has an edge, an uphill climb at this juncture for Governor Romney in your state?

SEN. PORTMAN: Well, I-- like what I see, David, because the trend is in our direction. And as you know, I've been all over the state in the last couple of weeks. I've-- I've spoken at six rallies, I think, and been to a lot of the victory call centers. And the enthusiasm and energy is on our side this year. I mean, it's-- it's not like 2008 at all. We've made three times more phone calls than all of 2008 with our volunteers, 25 more door knocks than all of 2008. So something is different on the ground. And if you look at the polling, it's trending our way.

So that's where you want to be at this point in the campaign.

GREGORY: I want to ask you about the economy. And a key moment from the debate that has to do with Governor Romney's tax and spend plan, his budget, his effort to reach a balance budget. This is how the president went after it on Tuesday. Let me play a portion of it.

(Videotape)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Now, Governor Romney was a very successful investor. If somebody came to you, governor, with a plan that said, here, I want to spend seven or eight trillion dollars, and then we're going to pay for it, but we can't tell you until maybe after the election how we're going to do it, you wouldn't have taken such a sketchy deal. And neither should you--the American people, because the math doesn't add up.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: Now, here's the thing. I know the Romney campaign has six studies that say it does add up, but we don't know exactly how. I've talked to Erskine Bowles and Senator Simpson of-- of the Simpson-Bowles commission, and they say it simply doesn't work that either the middle-class will have to pay more in taxes or you have to blow up the deficit. What can you say, specifically, that has undecided voters out there getting some clarity about why the math works aside from asserting that it does work?

SEN. PORTMAN: Well, David, two points. One, it does work. You mentioned the half dozen studies. The president is talking about a study that is not the Romney plan. That's what's been great about these debates, and this is why they have helped Mitt Romney in Ohio and around the country is that Mitt Romney has been able to tell people who he is and what his policies are rather than relying on these 30-second attack ads by the Democrats that, as you said, have been running hot and heavy in Ohio, mischaracterizing who he is, misrepresenting his policies. So the policy does work. It does fit together. And it's because it's tax reform, it's not just tax cuts. And it does, you know, require looking at some of these deductions, credits, and exemptions, and so on. So it does work. It does fit together. So that's what these debates have been fantastic for in terms of Governor Romney. Now second is Governor Romney has a plan. And-- and that's one thing that you've heard from a lot of folks already this morning on the show is that the president is out there attacking a plan. Now he's mischaracterizing it.

But at least Governor Romney has got a vision for the future. And he's got the plan to put America back to work. That's not what you hear from President Obama. He's talking about four more years of the last four years. And if you're an undecided voter in Ohio today, that's not what you want to hear. You know things are not going well. You know you want a change. Governor Romney has laid out a change, and in these debates he's been able to talk about what he's actually for and how it works.

GREGORY: All right. We're going to leave it there. Senator Portman, thank you very much. We'll be watching tomorrow night.

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