How do you say “Goodbye, President Obama” in Spanish? Two words: Marco Rubio.
Although the freshman senator from Florida isn’t running for president, insiders agree that Rubio tops the list of potential running mates for most of the GOP contenders.
Thus, when asked whether Mitt Romney would consider tapping Rubio for vice president, a senior Romney aide replied, “That could be a dream ticket.” For Romney, regarded as a Northeastern moderate by Southern conservatives, Rubio would add regional balance and conservative pedigree. But Rubio’s appeal extends well beyond the GOP base.
Rubio is young (40), but politically seasoned — he spent nine years in the Florida House of Representatives, the last two as speaker. Since arriving in Washington, he has impressed many with his intelligence, work ethic and modesty.
But, most importantly, from the perspective of electoral politics, Rubio is Hispanic.
The child of working-class Cuban immigrants (his father was a bartender, his mother a hotel housekeeper), Rubio speaks fluent Spanish and is the very embodiment of the American dream. Throw in his unabashed patriotism and movie-star good looks, and it is easy to understand why Republican strategists think Rubio might bring Latinos into the Republican fold in 2012.
Hispanics are, of course, a critical constituency for Barack Obama: In 2008 more than 67 percent chose Obama over John McCain. Latino support contributed significantly to Obama victories in the battleground states of Colorado, Florida, and Nevada. It was instrumental to Obama victories in New Mexico and Indiana.
By 2012, the Hispanic vote is expected to have increased by 26 percent. Will this help Obama? Maybe. But in 2008, Hispanic support for Obama was based more on his inspirational message than his ideological leanings.
Significantly, numerous studies show that the Latino electorate is loyal to no political party. Approximately 40 percent are “swing voters”: While they tend to agree with the Democrats on some economic issues, such as raising the minimum wage, they trend Republican on taxes and many cultural issues. Now that Obama’s glow has faded, many Latino voters have turned away from the president they once supported.
Indeed, just last week, Gallup reported that Obama’s approval rating among Latinos, once as high as 85 percent, has plummeted to 44 percent — a full 41 points below the high water mark. Another recent poll shows that only 38 percent of Latino voters are “certain” to vote for Obama in 2012.
According to Gallup, Obama’s waning popularity among this constituency is attributable to the floundering economy and soaring unemployment rate (11.6 percent in the Hispanic community).
Obama’s drop in the polls is not, as Democrats claim, a result of his failure to win congressional approval of amnesty for illegal immigrants. Latino voters (who, obviously, are all legal citizens) are, in fact, divided on amnesty. But, regardless of where they stand on immigration, polls shows that Latinos consistently rank jobs, the economy and education as their priorities.
All of this is bad news for Obama, who likely will attempt to mollify Latinos by reminding them that he appointed the first Hispanic justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and that he was the first president since JFK to visit Puerto Rico. But these token gestures are unlikely to salvage Obama’s image among voters who blame him for further weakening our economy.
Which brings us back to Sen. Rubio. As the Hispanic community turns away from the president’s empty rhetoric and failed policies, a Rubio VP candidacy could be the tipping point.
If you ask me, Romney-Rubio has a very nice ring to it.
Senator Marco Rubio’s speech at the Reagan Presidential Library, August 2011