Politics

Why Rubio Is Right for Romney

By choosing the Florida senator as his running mate, the GOP nominee-to-be can address some of his own shortcomings.

Once the scrapping ends and Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee for president, don't be surprised if he quickly selects Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida as his running mate.

The charismatic senator is just 40, but many GOP leaders already embrace his potential as a presidential contender somewhere down the line -- perhaps just four years from now if President Obama wins a second term and sets up a wide-open election for both parties.

SEE ALSO: "It's the Economy, Stupid" -- Still True?

There are three compelling reasons for Romney to tap Rubio.

He can carry a key state. Florida is the biggest prize in 2012 that isn't already locked up by Democrats (California and New York) or Republicans (Texas). In fact, most election scenarios require the Republican candidate to carry the Sunshine State if he is to have a chance of sending Obama packing. In 2010, Rubio ran a strong campaign against then Gov. Charlie Crist in a three-way Senate race in which the Republican Crist had to campaign as an independent because of the upstart Rubio's strength among GOP voters.

He can appeal to a major constituency -- in this case, Hispanics. When George W. Bush won the presidency against Al Gore in 2000, he picked up about 35% of the Hispanic vote nationally. But in 2008, John McCain won 32% of Hispanics in losing to Obama. So a few points matter. Rubio has hands down the highest profile of any Hispanic Republican politician. For sure, his views on immigration are too conservative to appeal to a broad swath of Hispanics. But he has to click with only a part of the whole to matter in November.

And he can help Romney mend fences after a bruising primary season. Rubio is a darling of the GOP's tea party wing, which is cold toward Romney. With Rubio on the ticket this year, the "Anybody but Romney" voters have a compelling reason to show up on Election Day. And once they do, they won't be voting for Obama.

Rubio tells his closest advisers, his family and anyone else who inquires that he isn't interested in running this year as the party's No. 2.

But he will if he's asked. It's one thing to say you will say no. It's another to say it when the de facto leader of your party asks you to run with him.

There's really little risk for Rubio. If Romney wins, Rubio gets a nearly automatic chance to run for president himself in eight years, no matter what happens to Romney in 2016. And if Romney loses in November, Rubio gets a leg up on the competition for the Republican nomination in 2016, when he'll be just 44 years old.

No one else brings to the table everything Rubio brings. Rick Santorum? He couldn't carry Pennsylvania in his last Senate race. Newt Gingrich? His former Georgia stomping grounds are already in the GOP column. Ron Paul? Too unconventional, plus he's from Texas. Rick Perry? Also from Texas. Jon Huntsman? Utah is solidly Republican, and having two Mormon former governors on the ticket doesn't help with conservatives.

This decision is as close to a no-brainer as you can get in politics. Rubio is right for Romney, in part because he is to the right of Romney, but for many other reasons, too. Surely Romney has Rubio's number on speed dial.

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