COLUMBUS, Ohio (CNN) – Unlike other Republican Senate candidates with long political resumes, Rob Portman had the good fortune this election cycle of avoiding a costly and divisive primary battle in Ohio.
Such contests have crowned hard-line conservative Senate nominees in seven states, including Tea Party-backed insurgents like Joe Miller in Alaska and Sharron Angle in Nevada, who unapologetically favor scaling back long-established government programs and banding together to stymie President Barack Obama's agenda.
Portman doesn't quite see himself running with that crowd if he wins in November.
"I agree with all those candidates that spending is a huge issue, and we have to get spending under control," the former congressman and Bush budget director told reporters Wednesday. "How we do it, I may differ with some of those candidates."
Casting the midterms as a referendum on out-of-control government spending, Portman predicted that Republicans and Democrats, new and old, should be able to find agreement on economic issues once they arrive in Washington for the next Congress.
"I think there will be plenty of room for common ground, and not just with the Republicans," he said. "There will be a new class coming in that has some ideas on this that are different than other Republicans and Democrats."
That sentiment differs markedly from someone like Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, who backed several of those insurgent candidates in their primaries and has accused moderates in the party of betraying conservative principles. "Frankly, I’m at a point where I’d rather lose fighting for the right cause then win fighting for the wrong cause," DeMint said recently, making clear he'd rather see a conservative GOP minority in the Senate than a bigger tent majority.
Portman, though, said it's possible for elected officials to work together "on a principled basis," pointing to his own experience working with Democrats in Congress on economic issues during the Clinton administration.
Asked about DeMint's more ideologically-driven agenda, Portman re-emphasized the need for consensus-building in Washington.
"We have to work together," he said. "These problems are too big, too intractable. People are tired of the partisanship. They aren't looking for someone to represent Ohio who is just going to throw partisan barbs. We tried that. It doesn't work."
Portman leads his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, by a 45 to 34 margin according to a CBS News/New York Times poll released Tuesday.
This post has been revised to clarify Portman's comments about DeMint.
UPDATE: Fisher's campaign disputed Portman's comments, alleging that the Republican has a "partisan agenda.”
“Congressman Rob Portman in the past year hasn’t supported a single piece of major legislation that has passed the Senate – even those which his GOP colleague, Senator Voinovich, supported," said Fisher spokeswoman Holly Shulman.
"Congressman Portman has consistently tried to score political points instead of helping Ohio’s businesses and families – whether it be legislation to help small businesses or an extension of unemployment benefits for those Ohioans hurting from the recession caused by the Bush/Portman agenda."