Monday, March 26, 2012

Rubio could be GOP running mate

Latino looks likely as Romney considers running mate

By Carl M. Cannon, UT San Diego (March 24, 2012)

The obsession with Etch-a-Sketch on the part of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich - courtesy of an inelegant comment made by one of Mitt Romney's aides - only underscored the obvious: Romney is going to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2012.

Much is left to unsort, including Gingrich's openly stated assertion that he's trying to force a brokered GOP convention in Tampa as well as suspicions voiced by establishment Republicans to the effect that Santorum is actually sabotaging his party's inevitable standard-bearer in order to set himself up for a run in 2016.

In the real world, however, the thoughts of Republican party professionals now turn to the identity of Romney's running mate. Numerous factors come into play in this choice, the first truly important decision a presidential nominee makes every four years.

Historically, nominees of both parties sought to "balance" a ticket. This exercise in complementing the top of the ticket can be geographical (Massachusetts Democrats John F. Kennedy and Michael Dukakis both picked Texas senators), ideological (Dwight Eisenhower, perceived as a moderate, chose the more conservative Richard Nixon, while conservative Ronald Reagan picked the more moderate George H.W. Bush), or generational (see Quayle, Dan and Palin, Sarah).

The Palin pick was interesting for another reason. Like Walter Mondale in 1984, John McCain sought to offer gender balance to his party's ticket - and with equally futile results. These balancing acts make the nominee feel better and satisfy the cravings of the media for a story line with conflict in it, but the truth of the matter is that Americans don't really vote for the number two person on the ticket.

Nor do they particularly care what the losing candidates in the primary fight have to say. Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom's minor gaffe about resetting in the general election campaign like "an Etch-a-Sketch" notwithstanding, that's what general elections are usually about.

This year may be an exception, however, as some Republicans are whispering in Romney's ear. The Democrats' supposed "Republican war on women" is mostly hype, but there is a constituency that the GOP primary season has given short shrift to - and that constituency is Latinos.

Although it's axiomatic that Hispanics are the fastest-growing demographic group in this country, there is, of course, no bloc Latino vote, anymore than Hispanics themselves are monolithic. But loose talk about building fences (stocked with alligators, no less) along the nation's southern border, enforcing laws designed for ethnic profiling, and "self-deportation" - this last, inane, formulation is Romney's own - has created both a crying need for the Republican presidential nominee to send a signal to 40 million Americans that they are not going to be marginalized by the Party of Lincoln.

But this crying need is also an opportunity for Mitt Romney: He can be the first nominee of a major political party to choose a Hispanic running mate.

So then the question becomes: Who should it be?

Four qualified candidates are apparently under some kind of consideration - or, if not, they should be. They are three governors and a U.S. senator: Govs. Luis Fortuño of Puerto Rico; Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Susana Martinez of New Mexico. The senator is Marco Rubio of Florida.

If one plays the ticket-balancing game, none of them are perfect on paper. Fortuño is governor of state that, not to put too fine a point on it, is not a state yet. And he's, obviously, Puerto Rican, not Mexican-American, which would help Romney more. That's an issue with Rubio, too - his parents came from Cuba - as is Rubio's opposition to the DREAM Act, which is enormously popular among rank-and-file Latino voters.

Brian Sandoval is very popular in Nevada, but he's pro-choice on abortion, which would be a problem for any vice presidential nominee in the modern Republican Party, but most especially for Romney, whose own late-in-life conversion on that issue is a source of suspicion among social conservatives.

Gov. Martinez' problems stem less from anything in her makeup or résumé than with a certain movie debuting this spring on HBO - about another Republican governor from a western state who was tapped as a vice-presidential nominee after having been governor for about an hour. But the lesson of Sarah Palin cuts two ways: Her choice thrilled the Republican base, energized the nominee, enlivened the 2008 GOP convention - and provided a boost in the polls.

So who fits that bill this time? Probably, the man from Miami. He's a conservative elected with ardent tea party support, with both charisma and experience in Tallahassee as the speaker in the lower house of the state legislature, and a man with passion and precision about his party's need to make Latinos feel welcome in the party formed to end slavery.

Viva Marco Rubio.

Cannon is Washington editor of RealClearPolitics.

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