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Although Rubio is not inherently a tea party Republican, his race against Gov. Charlie Crist for Florida’s GOP Senate nomination in 2010 became a cause célèbre for the tea party and movement conservatives. Running against Crist and the governor’s establishment support, Rubio easily won a three-way race after Crist bolted the GOP to run for Senate as an Independent.
Rubio’s selection would energize conservatives the way former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s did four years ago — though without the downside the inexperienced former Alaska governor had when she was plucked from obscurity.
Rubio’s Cuban heritage is a potentially huge asset, giving him particular appeal in key states with substantial Hispanic populations, including Florida, New Mexico and Nevada. More importantly, his ethnicity presents a more than subtle message that his party isn’t just a bunch of older white men.
If you have heard Rubio talk, you know that he can be eloquent.
Instead of ranting about President Barack Obama’s mistakes or agenda or spending most of his time demonizing Democrats, Rubio often presents an optimistic vision of America, telling his own immigrant family story.
His story of America as a land of opportunity certainly touches a nerve with free-market, anti-Washington conservatives, but it has potentially much greater reach, including to voters who are not ordinarily attracted to the GOP. For example, while Rubio generally adopts the Republican line on issues that have strained the party’s relations with Hispanics, he offers a much more welcoming message to Hispanics. He complains that Republicans don’t talk nearly enough about their commitment to legal immigration, and he approaches immigration issues with a much more sympathetic tone.
Rubio, like any politician, would have to defend himself from criticism.
He would once again have to deal with questions about his use of a Republican Party of Florida credit card, and critics have raised questions about whether he has mischaracterized his parents’ exit from Cuba. Even admirers of the Senator note that he has been quiet as a freshman and will have to demonstrate that he has the “heft” to be the man who will run the country if anything happens to the president.
Rubio has been a national figure for only two years, after all, and though he received plenty of attention and scrutiny in his Senate race, it is nothing like what he will attract as a running mate.
Would Rubio take the slot if it were offered to him? I don’t see why not.
It isn’t easy to turn down your party’s nominee for president when he asks you to join the ticket. And even if the ticket loses in November, Rubio would be “next in line for the Republican nomination,” always a valuable spot. He’d have a leg up on Jindal, McDonnell and the long list of Republicans — frankly, a more talented crop than this year’s — expected to contest for an open seat in 2016.
Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.
Correction: March 20, 2012
An earlier version of this article stated that Jindal endorsed Romney after Perry's exit from the race. Jindal has not endorsed any of the candidates since Perry dropped out.