Fresh­man sen­a­tor ig­nores ‘Ru­bio for VP’ push

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SEAN LENGELL

While the field for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion is crowded and up for grabs, many pun­dits and politi­cos are ready to pro­claim a front-run­ner for the ticket’s sec­ond spot: Florida’s Sen. Marco Ru­bio.

“There are very few can­di­dates that have such a broad Repub­li­can ap­peal and a chance to reach vot­ers that Repub­li­cans are hav­ing a hard time” winning over, said Florida At­lantic Univer­sity po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor Kevin Wag­ner.

Mr. Ru­bio, 40, has served in the Se­nate for less than eight months and the 2012 Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion is a year away. But for now the dap­per, ar­tic­u­late and am­bi­tious Mi­ami na­tive, who is ad­mired by tea party ac­tivists and the party’s es­tab­lish­ment alike, is the sexy choice for the GOP’s vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date.

“The ideal [run­ning mate] is some­body that is beloved by the tea party who holds statewide of­fice in a swing state and, oh, is His­panic and young,” said Jen­nifer E. Duffy, who tracks Se­nate races for the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port. “Ding, ding, ding! He pretty much fills that bill, doesn’t he?”

Mr. Ru­bio on Aug. 23 de­liv­ered what many con­sider the most important speech of his ca­reer, speaking at the Ron­ald Rea­gan Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary near Los An­ge­les at the per­sonal in­vi­ta­tion of for­mer first lady Nancy Rea­gan.

After the speech, the sen­a­tor de­nied he had any in­ter­est in serv­ing as some­one’s run­ning mate, a mantra he has re­peated since the “Ru­bio for VP” push be­gan al­most im­me­di­ately after his elec­tion last Novem­ber.

“What hap­pens in pol­i­tics is the minute you start think­ing of what else is out there for you, it starts af­fect­ing ev­ery­thing you do,” he said. “The re­al­ity is, I’m not go­ing to be the vice-pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee.”

Ron Bon­jean, a Wash­ing­ton­based GOP po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant, said Mr. Ru­bio is “play­ing his cards just right” for a fu­ture run at higher of­fice.

“He doesn’t think he’s too big for his britches and he is work­ing hard ev­ery day to work his way up the lad­der,” he said.

Mr. Ru­bio, the son of Cuban im­mi­grants, has wasted lit­tle time as­cend­ing the GOP depth charts. He was elected to the Florida House at age 28 and rose to speaker at 35. Then in 2009 he launched a cam­paign for U.S. Se­nate, run­ning against an­other ris­ing Repub­li­can star in thenGov. Charlie Crist.

Mr. Crist at the time en­joyed as­ton­ish­ingly high ap­proval rat­ings and was con­sid­ered a lock for the open Se­nate seat. But Mr. Ru­bio suc­cess­fully courted tea party sup­port­ers, who viewed the mod­er­ate Mr. Crist with sus­pi­cion, and rolled to vic­tory in Novem­ber.

De­spite his rapid po­lit­i­cal as­cent, Mr. Ru­bio has kept a lower pro­file than many of his tea party-backed GOP fresh­man con­gres­sional col­leagues. He oc­ca­sion­ally ap­pears on net­work news and talk pro­grams, though he hasn’t over­sat­u­rated the air­waves with his pres­ence. And he has spon­sored about 15 pieces of leg­is­la­tion since coming to of­fice, 50 less than fel­low first-term tea party dar­ling Sen. Rand Paul, a Ken­tucky Repub­li­can.

The Florid­ian also was the last first-year sen­a­tor to give his maiden speech on the Se­nate floor, wait­ing more than five months so as to “have a bet­ter sense of the in­sti­tu­tion,” a spokesman said at the time.

“He just so far has shown a canny and a ma­ture way of pac­ing him­self,” said Su­san MacManus, a long­time po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of South Florida. “He could get all the press he wanted ev­ery day but he doesn’t do that, and I find that’s un­usual for a politi­cian. But he’s very young and I think he knows he’s got a lot of time in pol­i­tics.”

Some po­lit­i­cal ex­perts say it would be wise for the young sen­a­tor to re­frain from a vice pres­i­den­tial run for now. A ma­jor speech at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion next year, Mr. Bon­jean said, would be an ideal cat­a­lyst to pro­pel Mr. Ru­bio’s ca­reer to a higher level, a move sim­i­larly em­ployed at the 2004 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion by then-Se­nate can­di­date Barack Obama.

“It is pos­si­ble for him to be on the bal­lot [next year], but it’s more likely he will fol­low a strat­egy of a slow rise,” Mr. Bon­jean said. “He’s likely go­ing to put to­gether a [leg­isla­tive] record that re­flects ac­com­plish­ments that could set him up for higher of­fice.”

And with Mr. Ru­bio’s na­tional po­lit­i­cal stock on the up­swing, he doesn’t need a vice pres­i­den­tial bid to boost his pro­file in the way it helped for­mer Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was widely un­known out­side her state un­til 2008 GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee John McCain picked her as his run­ning mate.

“He’s not go­ing to shoot from the cuff, he’s go­ing to make a pretty cal­cu­lated de­ci­sion about what he thinks is best for his ca­reer,” Mr. Wag­ner said. “And his ca­reer is go­ing fine without the need to be on the ticket, so he would have to see some real ben­e­fit from do­ing so.”

Mark Meck­ler, co-founder of Tea Party Pa­tri­ots, one of the move­ment’s largest groups, said he hasn’t heard sig­nif­i­cant chat­ter among tea party sup­port­ers for a Ru­bio vice pres­i­den­tial run.

“Peo­ple are re­ally slow and rea­soned in this elec­tion, and I think it’s pre­ma­ture for folks to be re­ally dig­ging into who should be the vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date when we have no idea who’s go­ing to be the top of the ticket,” he said.

Still, Mr. Meck­ler said the sen­a­tor is “def­i­nitely up there” in the pool of po­ten­tial run­ning mates who tea party sup­port­ers could em­brace.

“I cer­tainly think he is a name that’s very help­ful for [Repub­li­cans] to talk about,” Ms. MacManus said of Mr. Ru­bio. “Even if he’s not re­ally go­ing to be the se­lec­tion, the fact that his name al­ways comes up and his pic­ture gets flashed and peo­ple talk about him, that’s a good thing for the party.”


“The ideal is some­body that is beloved by the tea party who holds statewide of­fice in a swing state and, oh, is His­panic and young,” said Jen­nifer E. Duffy, of the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­por t. “He [Sen. Marco Ru­bio] pretty much fills that bill, doesn’t he?”

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