Fox News’ Sean Hannity sounds beside himself. Reuters seems pretty sure. Same with NBC Nightly News.
They all appear to believe that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio isn’t at the top of the unofficial shortlist to be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential. That is, Rubio isn’t on the shorter list of running mates.
"Why do I keep hearing they’re not going to pick Rubio?" Hannity asked with some sense of frustration Monday night on his show. "I want Rubio ... with everybody else."
Well, not quite.
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Rubio hasn’t really endeared himself to Mitt Romney. Sure, Rubio helped scuttle Newt Gingrich’s campaign, which Gingrich was busily scuttling anyway this January, by chiding the Republican for sounding like a Democrat over immigration.
And Rubio gave a pretty tepid and late endorsement of Romney on Hannity’s show well after the Florida primary.
Compare Rubio’s cool approach with the full-throated endorsement and help of former Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is a Romney campaign co-chair. An ounce of loyalty goes a long way in campaigns. Similarly, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman — who hails from a key swing state — has aggressively campaigned with Romney and, apparently, for a shot as the No. 2 Republican on the ticket.
Rubio hasn’t. He has spent more time recently plugging his top-selling political autobiography, An American Son, and less time talking about Romney.
Romney’s campaign says no decision has been made and that those who would know aren’t telling. Rubio has pointedly refused to discuss the job.
Also, Romney cares about Beltway groupthink. And many in the Beltway media have judged that Rubio’s a little too risky of a pick for his questionable spending with a Republican Party of Florida credit card years ago and his handling of the state budget as Florida House Speaker from 2007-2008.
Reuters’ Washington bureau reported Tuesday that Pawlenty, Portman and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal topped Romney’s list. NBC added South Dakota Sen. John Thune and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to the mix.
The absence of Rubio follows stories last month by ABC News, the Washington Post and the New York Times that reported Rubio didn’t even make the original shortlist. Romney himself had to deny it after a day of getting knocked off message, but chances are some higher ups in the Romney campaign were floating trial balloons that the right shot down.
There’s also a chance Romney, dissed repeatedly by the Republican right, might be inclined to pick Rubio in inverse proportion to the howls of the right.
"I love Rubio," conservative columnist Cal Thomas said Monday on Hannity’s show. "I think he’s got everything."
That might just be the problem.
Beyond Rubio’s potential baggage, there’s a matter of chemistry. There doesn’t seem to be a good connection between him and Romney.
Romney made his large fortune in the private sector. Rubio, more of a career politician, got relatively rich while in office as he climbed the ranks at influential law firms while ascending the ranks of the Florida House. But he didn’t become wealthy enough to retire his college debts, though American Son might take care of that.
Romney might not care about any knocks on Rubio if the senator shows he can deliver Florida. But the latest Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald, Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 poll suggests Romney could win the Sunshine State without Rubio.
Romney is essentially tied with President Obama, who tops him by a spread of 46-45 percent. With Rubio on the ticket, the numbers reverse with Romney garnering 46 percent and Obama 45 percent.
Either way, the theoretical lead of each candidate is well within the poll’s 3.5 percent error margin.
Rubio seems to help — especially with Florida Hispanics, whose support flips 8 points in the Republicans’ favor with Rubio on the ticket. Obama goes from winning Hispanics over Romney 49-42 percent to essentially losing them by a 43-44 percent. However, because of the relatively small sample size of Hispanic voters, these numbers are subject to relatively large fluctuations.
Still, Rubio appears to do no harm in Florida, and it’s really not clear how the other guys would be any better in a must-win state that Rubio won with almost half the vote in a three-way race. And Democrats seem scared of Rubio, whom they appear to have bashed more than the other shortlisters.
"We need Florida. We can’t win without Florida," conservative Noelle Nikpour chimed in agreement with Thomas and Hannity on Monday. "We’ve gotta have Florida. And that’s Rubio."
Perhaps. Perhaps not. But if Rubio doesn’t get picked and Romney subsequently loses Florida by a close margin, the I-told-you-sos will rain down on Romney.