The fastest-selling trinkets at the recent Republican Party of Florida meeting in Tampa were a pair of lapel pins -- $2 for the little one, $5 for the bigger -- bearing the smiling faces of Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio.
Such a ticket is wishful thinking on the part of GOP activists who yearn to return Florida to the red column next November. Although the former Massachusetts governor could appeal to conservative skeptics by picking Florida's new, Tea Party-backed senator as his running mate, it's not likely.
First, conservative skeptics will come around anyway, except for diehards who consider a second Obama term the painful penance the country must pay to bring about a Calvin Coolidge-style renaissance. Second, even Rubio admits he's not qualified to be president, though that was no impediment for Spiro Agnew, Geraldine Ferraro or William Miller, the guy who made those "Do you know me?" TV commercials for American Express.
Rubio has repeatedly denied he has such ambitions. But they all say that. Running for Veep is like winning Miss America or losing an Oscar -- you work hard to get it, then act surprised if you do. "Oh, me? But the other girls are so pretty!" Or, happy if you don't. "It's an honor just to be here."
Rubio, frankly, doesn't need Romney. It they win, his future is tied to the administration's success. If they lose, well, former vice-presidential nominees don't have people clamoring for an encore. Bob Dole and Walter Mondale were the last defeated vice-presidential contenders to be nominated for president, and both lost big.
Romney and Obama are polling evenly in Florida now, but that will change after the conventions. Putting Rubio on the ticket would improve Romney's chances for our 29 electoral votes, but it's not the lead-pipe cinch party activists seem to think. The Obama forces -- likely to lose Indiana, North Carolina and maybe other states they carried in 2008 -- will pour money and manpower into holding Florida.
Besides: Have you ever disliked a presidential nominee, but voted for him anyway because of his running mate?
Sen. Lyndon Johnson in 1960, delivering Texas, was probably the last ticket-balancing candidate to swing a presidential election. More often, understudies "deliver" states their parties would have won anyway.
The Democrats will ridicule, then attack, whomever Romney selects, but Rubio would bring unfair comparisons to Sarah Palin. He'll have been in the U.S. Senate about as long as she governed Alaska before Sen. John McCain chose her in 2008, but Rubio has more substance. With all due respect, it's a safe bet that being a Florida legislator for eight years, and speaker of the Florida House for two, is a bigger job than being mayor of Wasilla, and that being a senator from large and diverse Florida is better preparation than governing America's last great frontier.
Rubio would definitely help with Hispanics, and might help in Nevada and Colorado, states that Obama won last time and that Republicans need this time. But it's hard to imagine his presence offsetting Romney's promise to veto the "Dream Act," which would give children of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. Rubio has offered an alternative that would provide for legal residency, not citizenship, but the Democrats own the original article. (Neither is likely to pass next year, but that doesn't matter in campaigning.)
Another downside for Rubio’s candidacy, the second banana shouldn't upstage the star of the show. Palin did that to McCain, not intentionally. But Rubio could come across as the dynamic, bold, tough conservative, whilst Romney plays one on TV.
With the presidential nominations decided, speculation about the No. 2 spot is all that's left for political junkies. But don't laugh at Sarah Palin if you voted for Sen. John Kerry in 2004.
If Kerry had won, Vice President John Edwards would probably be the Democratic candidate for president right now.
Bill Cotterell, retired senior writer for the Tallahassee Democrat, has covered Florida government and politics since 1969. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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