Reports earlier yesterday that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was not being vetted as a serious vice presidential running mate by the Mitt Romney campaign – contradicted later by the candidate himself – imparts valuable political data. Perhaps a goldmine.
The first nugget suggests ongoing debate within the campaign about the strategy for the general election itself. Thus the hash that became the latest Rubio boomlet was no boomlet at all. More probably it was a botched attempt to influence internal campaign thinking.
The second data point corresponds to what many observers long suspected: That Rubio did not poll well among HispanicLatinos outside of Florida — and perhaps not even inside his critical battleground state. Romney’s campaign no doubt went about the business of ascertaining whether Rubio could draw enough HispanicLatino votes to make a difference in Florida or elsewhere. The data coming back was probably not encouraging. Were it otherwise, he might still be part of the veepstakes. This is important for not only this election but for subsequent elections in which HispanicLatinos will form an ever-growing component of the national vote.
We also should suspect that the Romney campaign, while perhaps not giving up on the HispanicLatino vote, might well think that getting the minimum 35 percent of it that he needs to win is not attainable. That drives up the uneasy possibility that Romney will try to make up the difference with disgruntled white voters. He has to somehow turn around public opinion that is 64 percent in favor of President Obama’s announcement last week to go easy on the 800,000 young undocumented residents who were in peril of being deported. Running a moderate campaign himself, he could leave it to his SuperPac buddies to run a hard-to-the-right campaign to echo the one the GOP ran in North Carolina against the African American Democratic nominee for the Senate, Harvey Gantt, in 1990 that exploited white fears of affirmative action. Perhaps the kind of campaign that former governor Pete Wilson ran to win re-election in 1994 is in the offing. Willie Horton anyone?
Yesterday’s mishandling of whatever is going on corroborates a greater truth: That Romney has to run a near-perfect campaign in order to win. These are invaluable political gemstones.
The Rubio non-inclusion announcement also suggests that the Romney campaign probably worried that the young Cuban American senator would not hold up well under the bright lights and pressure of a brutal national campaign. Indeed, in an outing with Univision’s Jorge Ramos last night, Rubio showed that he – while vastly more worthy of the Vice Presidency than Sarah Palin – has the same melt-down potential of the former Alaska governor, the worst vice presidential selection in history.
In his encounter with Ramos, Rubio appeared to not understand the Univision anchor’s responsibility to his viewers. It would have been inappropriate for Ramos to not have asked Rubio about a tangential relative who was somehow involved in some sort of drug operation years ago. In his first venture out into the public stage of what could be a presidential campaign, barely antagonistic questioning rattled Rubio. Performing well beyond the friendly confines of the Ronald Reagan Library or the studios of Fox News might have been problematic. Imagine a confrontation with Joe Biden.
Another observation: If GOP strategists are signaling that they are not going to directly contest the HispanicLatino vote, then the Obama campaign should make earnest plans to double-down on the investment it makes in the HispanicLatino electorate.
Finally, Rubio is a young man with charm, good looks and perfect Spanish – the kind of candidate who could have more than one race ahead of him. But politics is about timing, not baubles. With polls showing that HispanicLatino support is bumping up against 70 percent for Obama, it would take a totally different kind of Rubio to be viable in the near future in which the national HispanicLatino vote will continue to grow as a share of the electorate while the Cuban American population continues to contract in size and more of it voting Democratic in any case.
The Rubio non-fit within the Romney campaign makes fitting in the future even less viable – and that might be the most important thing we learned yesterday.