Charismatic and boyish, Marco Antonio Rubio would be more than the first Latino ever chosen for a major-party ticket. At 41, he would also be the youngest running mate in six decades. Not since Dwight D. Eisenhoweradded 40-year-old Richard Nixon to the 1952 Republican ticket has a younger person been proposed as a vice-presidential nominee by either major party.
Rubio’s youthful energy would be an asset to Romney, along with his potential appeal to Latino voters, the largest minority group in the country and a voting bloc that Republicans have struggled to attract.
But the selection of Rubio would also be a play by Romney to the GOP’s conservative base. Rubio’s election to the Senate in the big Republican year of 2010 was regarded as a signature triumph for the tea-party movement.
A protégé of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush—who has backed him for the ticket--Rubio served in the Florida House of Representatives and rose to the post of Speaker.
Working against the Miami native’s selection, however, are his relative lack of national experience and several ethics controversies. A close friend, Republican Congressman David Rivera, is a target of an investigation by federal authorities over alleged campaign finance regularities. As state lawmakers, they once owned a house together in Tallahassee, the state capital, that at one point entered foreclosure proceedings, though that is not part of the investigation.
Rubio has acknowledged that he shouldn’t have used a Florida Republican Party credit card to defray personal expenses during his Senate run. The then-state House speaker charged more than $100,000 in expenses to the party credit card, Florida newspapers have reported, but Rubio told Fox News this year that he never used the card to let the party pick up his personal costs.
“At the end of every month,” any expenses that weren’t “party-related, I would pay that directly to American Express,” he said.
Manuel Roig-Franzia of the Washington Post, author of “The Rise of Marco Rubio,” embarrassed his subject last year by revealing discrepancies in Rubio’s story of his family’s flight from Cuba. Documents showed that Rubio’s mother and father arrived in the United States in 1956, two years before Fidel Castro came to power. Rubio said he had been relying on family lore for the version that he had previously employed in his political career, portraying his parents as Cuban exiles who left after Castro took charge. Following the disclosures by Roig-Franzia, Rubio changed his official Senate biography, while at the same time playing down any significance.
Rubio’s parents were not U.S. citizens when he was born in 1971, a fact that has led to some of the same “birther” questions that plague President Obama, though specialists in the law dismiss those doubts as specious. His parents became naturalized citizens in 1975, and Rubio, by virtue of his place of birth, enjoys birthright citizenship.
Rubio has frequently been used by Romney as a spokesman on issues of importance to Latinos, and for a time the Florida senator attempted to craft his own version of the Dream Act to ease the plight of young illegal immigrants--without providing a path to citizenship (Romney opposes the Democratic version for that reason).
But resistance within his own party frustrated Rubio’s legislative efforts, and when Obama gave the green light for a modified version of the Dream Act earlier this year, using executive power rather than attempting to push a measure through Congress, Rubio abandoned his idea.
A longshot when he began his Senate run in 2009, Rubio benefited from the tea-party energy that turned 2010 into a big Republican year. On the day he was elected to the Senate—at age 39—he was already being talked about as a future vice-presidential or presidential candidate.
In his rise to the Senate, the conservative Republican outmaneuvered a moderate Republican, former Gov. Charlie Crist, during the primary (Crist was forced to abandon the GOP, becoming an independent but still losing the three-way Senate race). Rubio’s advocacy of tight-fisted spending reforms appealed to tea-party voters, but the heart of his message was the story of his parents’ flight from communism.
"I have represented a constituency of people who know what it’s like to lose your country,” Rubio often said.
Rubio was raised in Miami and in Las Vegas, where his father worked as a bartender and his family, for a time, belonged to a Mormon congregation. He entered Tarkio College in Missouri on a football scholarship. After Tarkio went bankrupt, he transferred to the University of Florida and received a bachelor’s degree in 1993. He earned a law degree at the University of Miami three years later.
In his final years of law school, Rubio was a Dade County organizer for Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign, where he developed ties to some of the state’s most prominent Republicans, including Bush.
In 1998, he won a seat on the city commission in the small, heavily Cuban town of West Miami, where he continues to make his home. Less than two years later, he won election to the state House and spent more than eight years in that body, becoming the first Cuban-American speaker in 2006. A Roman Catholic, Rubio and his wife Jeanette, a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader, have four children.
Rubio was late in endorsing Romney. He waited until the end of March, when the GOP primary battle was nearly over and most Republicans who had remained standoffish, including Jeb Bush, had fallen in line. But in recent months, Rubio has been an active surrogate for the former Massachusetts governor, speaking up for him on cable TV and agreeing to headline fund-raising events in Texas, Massachusetts and Florida.
Rubio has also made campaign appearances as a Romney surrogate in the battleground states of Iowa, Nevada and Florida. Adding him to the ticket would improve Romney’s anemic support from Latino voters—especially in his home state of Florida, a virtual must-win for Republicans this year. Recent Florida polling showed that strong backing from Latinos has boosted President Obama to a slight lead in the state, offsetting Romney’s advantage among white voters. But automated telephone interviews by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, showed that Rubio adds two percentage points to Romney’s total in Florida.
[For the record, 4:29 p.m. Aug. 4: An earlier version of this post said that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had charged more than $100,000 in personal expenses to a Republican Party credit card. Of that amount, about $16,000 were for personal expenses, he has told Florida newspapers.]