Boston Herald | Monday, October 31, 2011 | Op-Ed |

This Halloween, what scares Democrats most?

Ghosts? Goblins?  The spiraling national debt?

No.  What frightens Democrats today isn’t spectral, other-worldly, or even economic (although it should be).

Lately, the thing that most strikes fear into the hearts of Democrats is Marco Rubio.

Florida’s freshman senator is much talked about as a potential Republican vice presidential nominee.  And with good reason.

Rubio has been described as “Reaganesque.”  He is solidly conservative, upbeat, and unabashedly patriotic.  Moreover, at 40 years of age, the Cuban-American legislator (who speaks flawless Spanish) is uniquely positioned to increase the GOP’s share of the minority and youth vote — both of which were critical to Barack Obama’s electoral success in 2008.

If the eventual Republican nominee indeed chooses Rubio, there will be little the Democrats can do to minimize his impact.  Dems cannot paint the freshman senator as inexperienced — they forfeited that argument when they nominated a newly-elected senator to lead their ticket last time.

If, in the general election, they question Rubio’s ethnic authenticity, Democrats risk backlash from Latino voters (who embrace the diversity of the Latino experience and who understand that Hispanic isn’t synonymous with support for open borders).

Democrats know that it will be difficult to discredit Rubio in the general election (and even harder to make Joe Biden seem articulate by comparison to Rubio).  So, they have launched a preemptive strike.

Last week, in two separate stories on Rubio, The Washington Post fired the opening salvo.  In the first, the newspaper questioned whether Rubio’s parents (who first came to the United States before the rise of Fidel Castro) are properly described as Cuban exiles (they are).

In the second, the Post openly proclaimed Rubio a “risky bet” for Republicans, in large measure because of a dispute the senator had with news executives at Univision.  (Rubio objected to the Spanish language network’s tabloid-like piece about Rubio’s brother-in-law who was arrested 25 years ago on drug charges when the senator was 16 years old.)

The goal, of course, is obvious: Kick up enough dirt about Rubio in the preseason to make a risk-averse nominee look elsewhere for his running mate.

The Democratic playbook reads something like this:

–  Attack Rubio as insufficiently “committed” to the Latino community. When this fails, attack his family history. (That this strategy runs the risk of rallying Latinos to Rubio’s defense is irrelevant, so long as doubts are planted in the mind of the eventual GOP nominee.)

–  Attack Rubio’s family members. No nominee wants to play prevent-defense with the tabloids. The more “crazy Cuban” relatives the Democrats can uncover, the better.

–  Continuously remind GOP contenders about the pitfalls of picking a relative unknown (a la Sarah Palin).

Writing for the conservative blog HotAir.com, Jorge Bonilla correctly describes these tactics as “The Estradization of Marco Rubio.”  Recall how in 2003, Democrats stopped the brilliant, conservative lawyer Miguel Estrada from becoming a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  Even though Democrats agreed that Estrada was eminently qualified for the post, they blocked the appointment to ensure that Republicans could not later nominate Estrada to the Supreme Court.

Emboldened by the success of their Estrada strategy, Democrats have now taken aim at Rubio.  Their hope is that if they can raise enough questions about Rubio now, they won’t have to face him on the national ticket next year.

Marco Rubio may not be the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2012.  But one thing’s for sure: At 40, Rubio has a long career ahead of him.  And of that Democrats should be afraid.

Very afraid.

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