Mitt Romney says Marco Rubio is being vetted for VP. What's going on?

First, news reports said Sen. Marco Rubio is not under consideration as a running mate for the GOP ticket. Then Mitt Romney himself said the Florida senator is 'being throughly vetted.' Either way, it wasn't the best day for Rubio.

Jae C. Hong/AP/File
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, campaigning with Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, talks to reporters in Aston, Pa., on April 23.

In the span of a day, Marco Rubio has gone from apparently being off the list of potential running mates for Mitt Romney to being back on.

Tuesday evening, Mr. Romney told campaign reporters at an unscheduled stop in Michigan that Senator Rubio of Florida was “being thoroughly vetted as part of our process.”

Just that morning, ABC News had cited “knowledgeable Republican sources” saying that Romney’s vice presidential search team had not asked Rubio, one of the party’s rising stars, to complete any questionnaires or turn over any financial documents, the usual procedure for a possible running mate. The Washington Post confirmed the report with an “outside Romney adviser,” who nevertheless left open the possibility that Rubio could still be vetted.

So is Rubio under consideration or not? It never made sense for him not to be, or at least for the Romney campaign to appear to be considering him by asking for the usual documents. Rubio is a young, charismatic, Hispanic conservative from a top battleground state, Florida. In recent weeks, his star had waned as a possible running mate, as safer choices emerged as more likely – people like Sen. Rob Portman (R) of Ohio and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) of Minnesota.

Rubio, the new conventional wisdom went, is too young (early 40s) and untested. In short, he could have become another Sarah Palin, a choice that electrifies the conservative GOP base but isn’t widely perceived as being ready to be president on Day One if need be. Romney’s management style suggests that he’s not a gambler like 2008 GOP nominee John McCain, who selected Ms. Palin, the charismatic but (at the time) nationally untested governor of Alaska.

More likely, the reasoning goes, Romney will select a running mate who reinforces his own attributes – experienced, maybe a tad boring, but someone with economic experience who projects maturity and reassurance to an anxious public.

Still, in recent presidential cycles, nominees have always made it known that they were casting a wide net for a running mate, and always made clear that the list was diverse, including women and minorities. Throwing out names of people who don’t have a serious chance is considered par for the course.

It’s possible the unnamed sources cited by ABC News were wrong. That was Romney’s message Tuesday evening.

“I can’t imagine who such people are,” Romney told the campaign press pool at a stop in Holland, Mich., referring to ABC’s sources. “But I can tell you this: They know nothing about the vice presidential selection or evaluation process. There are only two people in this country who know who are being vetted and who are not, and that’s [longtime aide] Beth Myers and myself. And I know Beth well. She doesn’t talk to anybody. The story was entirely false.”

But it’s also possible that word had indeed slipped out that Rubio wasn’t in the running, perhaps as a way to ease into the eventual selection of someone else. If so, the leak was ill-timed.

Last Friday, President Obama electrified the political world by announcing a new policy that will help hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants – a majority of them Hispanic – stay in the United States legally. Polls show the move is popular with the broad electorate, and could help light a fire under Mr. Obama’s Hispanic base. Obama is already winning Hispanic voters by a wide margin, but there have been questions over whether they will turn out in sufficient numbers to make up for his deficit among white non-Hispanic voters.

Putting Rubio on the ticket would by no means guarantee anything for Romney with the Hispanic vote. Rubio is Cuban-American, which doesn’t necessarily win him points among Mexican-Americans, who face immigration issues that Cubans don’t. But the symbolic importance of having a Hispanic running mate – the first in American history – would still mean something.

In the end, it’s possible that Rubio indeed wasn’t being vetted, but in the frenzy after the ABC report, the Romney campaign decided to change the narrative and announce that of course Rubio is being vetted. The bad news for Rubio is that the furor erupted the day his memoir was released. What Rubio no doubt had hoped would be a big moment in the sun turned into a day full of questions about an apparent snub. 

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