Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) waits to deliver a foreign policy speech alongside… (Brendan Hoffman/Getty…)
My column Thursday is about all the reasons political insiders think Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is Mitt Romney’s most likely choice as a running mate. Portman is solid, experienced and boring -- all positive attributes, at least for the buttoned-up Romney campaign. Plus he’s from a swing state Romney needs to win.
But what about the potential candidate who has attracted most of the buzz over the last few weeks, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)? Why do GOP strategists discount his chances of getting on the ticket?
After all, Rubio is young (40), attractive, articulate and smart. I interviewed him last year and found him well versed on national and international policy, and quite capable of framing his "tea party" ideology in relatively moderate tones. Pundits have argued that Rubio, as the first Latino on a major-party ticket, could help Romney carry not only Florida but also Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, swing states with big Latino populations.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012
But Rubio comes with downsides. He’s unproven on the national stage; the last time a GOP presidential candidate opted for a fresh new face as his running mate was John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin in 2008, and that didn't turn out so well. Rubio has had prickly relations with the media in his home state -- not a disqualifying problem but a worrisome one. He’s had a long-running feud with Univision, the country’s most popular Spanish-language television network -- again, not a disqualification but a potential distraction. The Romney campaign may not want to spend a lot of time talking about immigration; a Rubio candidacy would keep the issue front and center.
It’s not clear whether Rubio, a Cuban American, would run all that well in the largely Mexican American communities of the Southwest. A nationwide poll of Latino voters conducted in January for Univision and ABC News found that 60% either had never heard of Rubio or had no opinion on him; only 22% of Mexican Americans polled said his presence on the ticket would make them more likely to vote Republican. (In 2004, George W. Bush won an impressive 40% of the Latino vote nationwide.)
And Rubio might not even help Romney carry his home state. In Florida, the tea party senator is something of a polarizing figure. A Rasmussen Poll last month found that 48% of Floridians have a favorable view of Rubio, not an overwhelming number for a well-known senator. Fox News found that Rubio’s name on the ticket didn’t help Romney in a head-to-head poll: When vice presidential nominees were mentioned, the outcome was still a dead heat, 45% for Obama-Biden to 44% for Romney-Rubio.
In 2010, Rubio won his Senate seat in a three-way election with just 49% of the vote. In Ohio, another closely divided state, Rob Portman won his Senate seat with a whopping 57%. Portman’s no more popular in Ohio than Rubio is in Florida, but he seems to know how to win elections.
One last data point: Portman endorsed Romney early, on Jan. 19, and worked hard to help Romney win the crucial Ohio primary on March 6. Rubio waited until March 28 to endorse -- two months too late to help Romney in the Jan. 31 Florida primary. If loyalty matters, Portman beats Rubio hands down.