Friends and allies of former Rep. Rob Portman, the past director of the Office of Management and Budget, are stepping up their efforts to make the Ohioan a top-tier candidate for Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential pick. With McCain openly talking about his search, GOP strategists and insiders close to his campaign believe that the youthful Portman is among the top of the likely nominee’s 20 choices. Today, he got a big boost from House Minority Leader John Boehner, who said that McCain needs a running mate who is younger, conservative, and could easily step into the presidency. When asked if he thought Portman filled that bill, Boehner said, "I do." Allies say that Portman offers McCain many angles: Just 52, he provides an athletic look for the ticket; he’s a budget wonk who oversaw the shrinking of the deficit as director of the Office of Management and Budget; and he helped President Bush with key trade deals as the U.S. trade representative. Some had suggested earlier this week that he might be hit by the Democrats for handling the president’s economy, now in or near a recession, but others said that his economic expertise would be a major help for McCain. Others also cited his support from conservative corners, such as columnist Robert Novak, and dismissed some criticism in the past as partisan attacks from Democrats. “He’s solid, he’s clean, and he can probably deliver Ohio,” said one ally. As for McCain, insiders say that picking a vice presidential nominee earlier than normal, say a month before the Republican National Convention, would allow the ticket to take advantage of the Democratic disarray by portraying a unified party. It would also put two top GOP candidates on the campaign trail and boost fundraising efforts, they say.