Paul Ryan. Rob Portman. Tim Pawlenty. Bob McDonnell. Mitch Daniels. Even their names are boring. Sure, they’re all highly qualified public servants — governors, senators, congressmen — but they are also borrrrrring.
Of course, Bill the Bard was right about names: They don’t mean much, and a rose would smell as sweet even if it were called an amorphophallus titanum. But names do mean at least a little something, especially after the last presidential contest, when America picked a man named Barack Hussein Obama.
2008 was not just an election, but a movement — a virtual unknown junior senator from Illinois (with stops in Kenya and Indonesia) knocked off the country’s most powerful political machine (the Clintons) to sweep to office with an optimistic message of hope and change and post-partisan politics. He was, of course, the first black man to win the office.
But four years later, that Man of Hope appears to be nothing more than a petty, partisan politician (and a pretty poor president) willing to say and do anything to win re-election. On the other side — another multimillionaire and longtime politician, not to mention a boring white guy from the Northeast (also another Harvard alumnus).
Enter Marco Rubio. Born in 1971 to parents who emigrated to the U.S. from Cuba, he attended public schools as his mother worked as a hotel housekeeper, his father as a bartender. He won a seat in the Florida House of Representatives at just 29, seven years later was elected speaker, and two years ago crushed his competitors to win a U.S. Senate seat.
His rise has been meteoric — reminiscent of another first-term senator. A conservative’s conservative, Mr. Rubio has won the hearts of the tea party, pushing for lower taxes, reduced federal spending and limited government. And he is, most of all, a party uniter: “As frustrated as sometimes we may get with the leadership of our own party on one issue or another,” he said last month, “the logical home of the limited government, constitutional Republican principles of our nation is the Republican Party.” (Did you hear that, Ron Paul supporters?)
Make no mistake: Mr. Rubio is no Sarah Palin. Admired by foreign-policy stalwarts in the Senate such as Joe Lieberman and John Kerry, the new senator has already traveled the world, stopping in Madrid to talk with Spain’s prime minister (in Spanish), and hitting Afghanistan, Pakistan, Malta, Libya, Haiti and Colombia, to name a few.
What would a Hispanic vice presidential candidate bring to Mr. Romney? There are now 50 million Hispanics in America, making up 16.3 percent of the population (blacks make up 12.6 percent). And aside from his home state of Florida, which is 22.5 percent Hispanic, Mr. Rubio could help in battleground states like Nevada (26.5 percent), Colorado (20.7 percent), North Carolina (8.4 percent) and Virginia (7.9 percent).
Hispanics in 2008 went for Mr. Obama, 67 percent to 31 percent. But the heavily religious group is no fans of the president’s push to force Catholic institutions to pay for birth control, or of Mr. Obama’s support of gay marriage.
What’s more, unemployment among Hispanics rose from 10.2 percent in April to 11 percent in May. Mr. Obama’s administration has been responsible for a record number of deportations of illegal immigrants, and has made no headway on an immigration policy. With few accomplishments to woo Hispanics, Mr. Obama has opened the door for the population to take a look at the alternative.
Last week, Jeb Bush gave the Florida senator a full-throated endorsement, calling him “the most articulate conservative elected official on the scene today.”
“He speaks with great passion about American exceptionalism. I think he would lift the spirits of the campaign and provide some energy. Gov. Romney is running a very good campaign right now and closed the gap and leading in some polls, but I think this would be an added bonus,” Mr. Bush said.
And the White House is scared. Mr. Obama’s top political strategist said Mr. Romney’s selection of Mr. Rubio would be an “insult” to Hispanics. Over the weekend, the Obama campaign released new ads in Spanish targeting Hispanics in key states.
Also over the weekend, at a conservative conference in Chicago, Mr. Rubio beat other veep contenders by more than 2 to 1. Mr. Portman, the conventional-wisdom pick, got less than 2 percent of the vote.
Sure, those “boring white guys” are all good alternatives: safe, conservative, pre-vetted, budget-oriented, even wonkish. They could help in swing states like Ohio and Virginia. And they all would adhere to the top rule of picking a running mate: “First, do no harm.”
But Mr. Rubio is a game-changer. While many political pundits think 2012 is the Year of the Woman, it is actually Hispanics who will decide the election. And a rising young Cuban politician with a golden touch might just give them reason to rise up and roar.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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