LEBANON, Ohio - Sen. Rob Portman's face or name might not be the most recognizable of Washington politicians, but more and more see the Ohio Republican as a pivotal political player.
While the public opinion of politicians is in the tank, registering at an all-time low, Portman's stock is on the rise.
Congenial and respected, his portfolio is extensive.
He's a former Cincinnati-area congressman who also worked in the Bush administration. His experience as a former White House budget director helped to guide Republicans through the summer's fierce fight over increasing the federal debt.
It's a role that ultimately landed him a spot on the super committee tasked to trim at least $1.5 trillion in deficit spending - a job he compares to a trip to the dentist.
"Other members of the House and Senate said that it was like a root canal and that they would never accept," Portman told CBN News during an hour-long exclusive interview from Ohio.
"I disagreed with them on never accepting," he said. "I agreed with them on the root canal part. It is a hard job, and at the end of the day you don't make many friends because tough decisions have to be made."
Portman's positive, "can do" attitude has a lot to do with his background as a native of the Buckeye State.
CBN News traveled to Lebanon, Ohio (30 miles north of Cincinnati) to talk with the senator at the Golden Lamb Inn, which boasts being the oldest, continuously operating business in the state.
"My grandfather ran it for about 40 years or so. My mom ran it after that," Portman explained. "This place is a part of me."
The historic inn has been in the Portman family for 85 years. His grandparents bought the property before the Great Depression.
The second floor Thomas Corwin room, named after a famous Ohioan, was his mother's first home. Portman spent his early childhood days on the property.
"My brother and sister worked here as a dishwasher and a hostess," he recalled. "I mostly got in the way."
Today he co-owns the inn with his brother, Wym, and sister, Ginna.
Portman explained why encouraging the nation's entrepreneurial spirit is key to preserving America's economic and political freedoms.
Business runs in the family's blood.
Portman's father, Bill, started a forklift company in 1960 with just five employees. Portman said the company lost money in the first few years but, eventually, "the American dream kicked in."
In 2004, when it was sold to a Dutch company, it was one of Cincinnati's largest companies.
Key to Debt Committee?
Portman left Washington, D.C. and returned to Ohio in 2007 to spend more time with his wife, Jane, and their three kids.
While working at a law firm and teaching courses on government at the Ohio State University, he thought he was done with politics.
But he didn't like watching from the sidelines as Washington responded to the recession.
"I saw the government really using the excuse of a weak economy and a financial crisis to create more government and to push onto the American entrepreneurial society more and more restraints and government activity," he explained about his decision to run for the Senate.
That's the perspective he brings to the super committee. Some observers say his reputation as a consensus builder could make the difference in whether the committee reaches an agreement or not.
The Ohio lawmaker shared with CBN News his initial perception of the newly-formed super committee. Click below for his comments.
"We do have differences of opinion and those have also been expressed already - some publicly, some privately," Portman said.
Both sides have staked out their positions. Republicans say no new taxes. Democrats say no deal without it.
However, a stalemate would lead to tough across-the-board cuts in defense and domestic programs.
Click below for more of Portman's thoughts on the matter.
"You could have another downgrade. You could certainly have a stock market reaction that would be negative," he said. "And, I think nobody who looks at it objectively would want to happen."
Portman said he feels that should be enough to get Congress to act.
Portman in 2012?
Portman's roots and experience have some talking about his political future.
Several GOP hopefuls have sought his advice on the economy.
According to Portman, the successful 2012 contender will present a positive, proactive message on jobs.
As the classic swing state, the Ohio senator's name has been floated as a potential running mate for the eventual Republican nominee. But his older brother told CBN News he's solely focused on his current job.
"I think he's very capable of being a VP candidate," Wym Portman explained. "I think he's also committed to himself, he's just been elected as senator, to be a great senator."
For now, he's already proven why he's one to watch.