Et tu, Rob Portman? Ye of sensibility and rectitude? Ye of maturity and political resolve? Despite inquires from the Cincinnati Enquirer and Plain Dealer, Portman's campaign won't directly answer the question of whether the candidate believes that President Obama is a citizen. (Obama is.) So now, we're up to five Republican Senate candidates -- major ones, not including J.D. Hayworth in Arizona for the moment -- who have flirted with Birtherism.
Several of these candidates have later corrected their initial hesitation, but it is precisely that initial hesitation that contains so much information about what Republican candidates fear right now. No doubt that Portman and Marco Rubio know that Birtherism is bullshit. The gap between their private beliefs and how they articulate them publicly is fairly wide. I'm not a fan of stories that begin with X "refuses to denounce" Y -- I usually skip them. I make an exception here because the accusation is so reckless, so tied to race and culture, and so stupid that those who try to Wink at the Birthers are adding potency to a poison that everyone is forced to gulp.
Rep. Roy Blunt called the question "legitimate" and said he did not know whether Obama was a citizen. Bonus: he said this in February.
Portman did not reproach his surrogates at an event for joking that Portman was "an American lawyer" and Obama wasn't. His campaign later issued a statement saying the remarks were not appropriate but blasting Democrats for trying to move the focus from issues to trivial matters. One can understand why Portman would be uncomfortable rebuking folks who were saying nice things about him, but the campaign seems to want to thread the needle by denouncing the comments -- in the non-specific. Whatever the Portman campaign intends, his campaign's response leaves open the possibility that Portman doesn't necessarily find the question illegitimate. The way this particular controversy goes away is to answer the question, and not ignore it. A quick "yes" moves everything forward, a quick "no" angers his base. But an answer-the-subject-not-the-question response doesn't work.