The selection of a running mate is a presidential candidate’s first big decision.

Will Mitt Romney choose an uncontroversial Washington insider, like Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, or take a chance on someone more exciting, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio?

The arguments in favor of Rubio are well-known:   A Latino from a key swing state, Rubio is an ideological conservative with a persuasive and upbeat message.

He is, in many ways, a perfect complement to Romney: Where Romney is pragmatic, Rubio is idealistic; where Romney seems robotic, Rubio is charismatic; where Romney is patrician, Rubio (the son of working-class Cuban immigrants) is “every man.”

Rubio also has the potential both to “fire up the base” (a base that has been slow to embrace Romney) and to appeal to independent voters.

So what’s the down side?

Some conservatives argue that history counsels against “exciting” vice presidential choices.  Dan Quayle, Jack Kemp and Sarah Palin — all principled conservatives with potentially broader appeal — were meant to be game-changers. All fell flat.

Insiders worry that Rubio is too green or that, with his near-celebrity status, he might upstage Romney.  Such fears are unfounded.

Seasoned by more than 15 years in the rough-and-tumble world of Florida politics, Rubio has transitioned seamlessly to the national stage.  Colleagues from both parties describe him as a person of substance — a team player who is well-prepared and respectful of others.  He is enviably at ease in the spotlight.  And, yet, he is not a showman.

Marco Rubio is absolutely ready for prime time.

But an unspoken concern among many Republicans is that his extended Latino family may not be.

If you think attacks on Ann Romney have been harsh, just wait until the liberal media get their hands on Jeanette Rubio.

Jeanette Dousdebes Rubio is a gorgeous, 38-year-old former Miami Dolphins cheerleader of Colombian descent.  A frequent visitor to the spa, she is part of what one of my Puerto Rican relatives affectionately calls the “hair and nails crowd.”   A mother of four, who left college without earning her degree in order to have children, she is everything feminists resent.

They will attack her — unfairly, of course — as unsophisticated.  And some insiders worry that Jeanette, who has spent most of her life within a tight-knit, insular Hispanic enclave, won’t be ready.

Mrs. Rubio won’t be the media’s only potential victim.

Should Romney choose Rubio, the liberal press will leave no stone unturned in search of every eccentric Rubio relative in South Florida.  And, speaking as someone with an extended Latino family, I can assure you that they will find “eccentric” relatives.

All of this, of course, will be extremely unfair.  It may even backfire.

But it will create a temporary distraction that some Romney advisers wish not to endure.  And so, many risk-averse Republicans are quietly advocating Portman as the “safe” alternative.

I am sure that Portman would make a fine vice president.  But tellingly, many Democrats say they think so too.  They tout Portman as smart and “steady.”

The subtext?  Obama/Biden can beat Romney/Portman — but, don’t worry, Democrats will still respect Portman in the morning.

The truth is, Democrats are terrified of Rubio.  And so, Obama adviser David Axelrod goes on television to say that selecting Rubio would be an “insult to the Hispanic community.” (As offensive as this statement is, it is also rather revealing.)

In making his VP selection, Romney can play it safe or he can be bold.  The choice will tell us much about the way a president Romney is likely to govern.

Here’s hoping for bold.


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