The big news for this morning, it seems, was Senator Marco Rubio’s decision to endorse Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination. Given the degree to which Rubio is widely hailed as a rising star in the GOP, it should surprise no one to learn that his endorsement has only added to the speculation that will be the party’s vice presidential nominee. And while Rubio continues to deny his interest in the position, recent moves suggest otherwise.
There’s no question that Republicans would love a chance to vote for the Florida senator. It’s not just that he’s young, handsome, and charismatic—implicit in Rubio is the promise that Republicans could improve their standing with Latino voters, who are turned off by the party’s hardline opposition to sensible immigration law.
But, to build on a point from earlier this week, there’s no reason for Republicans to believe that Rubio would do anything to win the Latino vote. “The track record suggests that Latino voters value substantive representation over descriptive,” says Gary Segura, a political scientist at Stanford University who works with Latino Decisions, a polling firm. This was true in Nevada where, in 2010, Republican Brian Sandoval earned only 33 percent of the Latino vote.
Indeed, according to a January poll from Latino Decisions, Univision, and ABC News, only 25 percent of Latino voters said that they would be more likely to vote Republican if Senator Rubio were the vice presidential nominee. 19 percent said that they were less likely, and 47 percent said that it would have no effect. It’s not clear that things would look any better for Rubio if this poll were taken today, especially when you consider his support for a neutered DREAM Act which would all but create second-class status for the children of undocumented immigrants.
Insofar that Rubio has any effect on the Latino vote, it’s in Florida, where—according to Latino Decisions—43 percent of Latinos say that they would be more likely to vote Republican because of his presence on the ticket. “Rubio could swing [Florida] for Romney,” says Segura.
He notes, however, that whether you think this is the case depends on your theory of vice presidential effects. ”If you think that you need to hold down a constituency in your base, then you go in that direction,“ Segura says, referencing President Obama’s decision to pick Biden as a way to appeal to working-class whites within the Democratic Party. ”But if your theory is, ‘pick a big state and nail it down,’ then Rubio is more plausible, though no more plausible than Rob Portman in Ohio."
This is exactly right. In general, a nominee’s choice for vice president has little effect on the outcome in any given state. If conditions give Obama the advantage in Florida, then he’s likely to win it, even if Rubio is on the ticket. Truthfully, there are better candidates than Rubio for the vice presidential nomination (Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell comes to mind). Republicans shouldn’t let an electoral fantasy get in the way of making a smart choice.