Portman paddles alongside GOP convention
© Jesse Byrnes
CLEVELAND – Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP blocks Schumer effort to adjourn Senate until after election Candymakers meet virtually with lawmakers for annual fly-in, discuss Halloween safety Democrats look past Election Day in Barrett fight  MORE paddled softly toward the dock's edge, his orange kayak gliding through the Cuyahoga River's dark green water on the outskirts of the GOP hubbub downtown.
 
The vulnerable Ohio senator kayaked with veterans at a wharf more than a mile away from the Republican National Convention on Tuesday afternoon.
 
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Portman, who has held multiple events this week on the sidelines of the convention, insisted he wasn't attempting to avoid controversial presumptive GOP nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally MORE in his home state.
 
"I'm supporting him, I'm not keeping my distance, I've endorsed him," Portman said. "I like what he says about rebuilding the military because I think the ability to project force is part of the way you keep the peace."
 
"It'd be smart for him to surround himself with more military experts, and he seems to be starting to do that," Portman added. He pointed to retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was reportedly considered as a running mate for Trump and addressed the convention on Monday night, as a promising sign.
 
Portman said one of his goals this week was to draw attention to the city, saying Tuesday's event was organized "a long time before Donald Trump was the nominee." He added, "I wanted to do it since I helped get the convention here to Cleveland, which I was very excited about." 
 
But Portman, who is facing a reelection challenge from former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D), is keeping a relatively low profile at the convention in the Buckeye State as he attempts to navigate his support for Trump. He won't be speaking at the convention, which Ohio Gov. John Kasich and other Republicans are skipping.
 
Portman pushed back on Strickland's accusation that he was a "weak person" for not calling out Trump. "I don't know what that means," Portman responded. "I think he's weak for not disavowing Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump jokingly blames 'Crooked Hillary' after his rally mic stops working The Hill's Campaign Report: Two weeks to the election l Biden leads in new polls as debate looms l Trump pressures DOJ on Hunter Biden Trump remarks put pressure on Barr MORE because she would continue the same weak economic growth we've seen the past eight years."
 
Portman said he heard some of the speeches Monday where speakers focused on national security. He knocked Strickland on the topic, going after the Democrat for "supporting the Iran agreement, which is a disaster for our national security, in my view."
 
Portman on Monday night sat with the Ohio delegation at the Quicken Loans Arena where convention events were being held and appeared before reporters. He said he'd be at the arena again on Wednesday, but isn't speaking. He held another public event Monday, a habitat build nearby.
 
The Ohio senator will play a major role rallying Republicans to the polls in November. "You probably know this, but we have now knocked on more doors, made more phone calls than any campaign in the country, including the presidential campaigns, by the way," he told reporters Tuesday unprompted. 
 
Portman said he disagreed with the Trump campaign's efforts to scale back language supporting Ukraine in the new GOP platform.
 
"I'm concerned about that, I think we need to stand up for Ukraine," he said.
 
He also praised Melania Trump's speech Monday night, but said he didn't know about the details on charges of plagiarism.
 
"I heard her speech last night, i thought it was really good," Portman said, calling it a "great speech" and "very inclusive." But he admitted he liked being outside Tuesday at the wharf while others gathered downtown.
 
"I love being outside, I love to kayak, so I can't say that's not true," Portman, an avid kayaker, said with a smile Tuesday when a reporter noted it was nice being outside in the sunshine instead in the convention site.
 
Tuesday's event was organized with Team River Runner, a group focused on helping rehabilitate wounded veterans, including Steve Baskis, 30, who served in the Army and lost his eyesight when an improvised explosive device blew up on him in the northern edge of Baghdad in May 2008 during his first tour to Iraq.
 
"It's really just empowering," he said of paddling on the river with Portman and others, who engaged in races and a game of kayak football. Baskis, who came from central Illinois for the event, said it was his first time playing kayak football. He has done whitewater kayaking in Colorado and other sports like alpine skiing.