TAMPA -- There has been enough political news coming out of Florida this past week to keep the local media from being all Trayvon, all the time. Though the media mob, a reflection of the one on the streets, continues to bay for George Zimmerman's head and other parts. Judicial procedures -- that don't move at the speed of the 24-hour news cycle -- be damned.
The disconcerting news for conservatives last week was a Quinnipiac Poll showing our rookie president leading both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in Florida in one of those "if the election were held today" affairs. The margin over Romney was 49 to 42, even wider over Santorum.
Hardly had this been digested when news arrived, also from Quinnipiac, that Congressman Connie Mack IV, the leading candidate in the race for the Republican senatorial candidacy, has lost his lead over incumbent liberal Democrat Bill Nelson. A little more than two weeks ago a Rasmussen poll showed Mack leading Nelson 43-36. Quinnipiac's new take shows this ratio flipped, with Nelson ahead of Mack 44-36.
There's plenty of time until November, so Nelson can't put his well-financed-with-special-interest-money campaign on cruise control just yet. It's not even clear that Mack will be the eventual Republican nominee, though he has enjoyed large poll leads over South Florida attorney George LeMieux. LeMieux served the last 16 months of former U.S. Senator Mel Martinez's term in 2009 and 2010. He has lately campaigned hard on Mack's colorful biography, which includes an agonizingly long haul to a bachelor's degree, multiple bar fights and road rage incidents, personal finance problems, and an achievement-free pre-politics career. Most recently LeMieux gigged Mack for missing the Paul Ryan budget vote last Thursday to campaign in Florida.
Mack IV is not the still popular, straight arrow, former Florida U.S. Senator Connie Mack III. Poll numbers may be different when all potential Republican primary voters understand this. No, Mack IV is an apple who seems to have fallen fairly far from the tree (OK, maybe an orange, as this is Florida).
LeMieux's cross to bear is former liberal Republican Florida Governor Charlie Crist, whose campaigns LeMieux ran and whose offices, both when Crist was governor and when he was Florida's attorney general, he ran. The ideology and achievement-free Crist, who deserted the Republican Party in 2010 in a futile attempt to best Marco Rubio for a U.S. Senate seat, is heartily disliked by the Republican base, precisely the folks who turn up to vote in primaries.
Mack has attempted to tie LeMieux to various of Crist's more toxic policies -- cap and trade, dependence on "renewable" fuels, etc. LeMieux's defense is that he was simply hired help and the policies are Crist's. Further, when Crist left the Republican Party, then Senator LeMieux immediately endorsed Rubio.
Rubio was also in the news last week with his endorsement of Mitt Romney and his call for Republican candidates to switch their oratorical target from each other to President Obama. (Republicans' low showing in polls partly reflects the nasty things they've been saying about each other.) Also pundits and talking heads can't resist speculating whether Rubio will be the Republicans' candidate for vice president, even though there's no existing super-computer powerful enough to count the number of times Rubio has said he doesn't want to be on the ticket or to be veep. Still popular former Florida governor Jeb Bush says Rubio is his choice for number two.
There's a venerable tradition in America of politicians who yearn to be vice president but say that they don't want the office. When pushed, these folks can usually be drawn away from other activities, such as when George H.W. Bush was convinced to stop nattering on about "voodoo economics" long enough to join Ronald Reagan on the ticket in 1980. And perhaps Rubio could be so persuaded this year.
There are arguments for having Rubio on the ticket. He's a dynamic, well-informed, articulate conservative who can make his case on issues without being combative. He can inform and convince people without ticking them off like the Newts and Santorums of the world too often do. His intellectual reach is truly impressive. On top of this he's an attractive young fellow with a beautiful family. But perhaps the two strongest arguments for his place on this year's ticket have nothing to do with his abilities. They are: (1) he's a Floridian, and (2) he's Hispanic. No win in Florida, no Republican president in 2013. And no future for the Republican Party if it can't fetch in voters with Spanish last names.
But is it good for the career of the brightest new light in the Republican firmament to accept a terrible, non-job like vice president? Perhaps the job makes sense for an older wise-man like Dick Cheney serving a younger George W. Bush. But for a 40-year-old red-hot who has been active and effective on vital issues and could be a real leader for the conservative side in the legislative branch? A case can be made that Rubio has the potential to be in the top spot on the Republican ticket in the future.
But the case that's being made now by folks like Jeb Bush is that the republic's future is shaky unless we fire Barack Obama in November. So Marco's number may well be called this year for the number two slot whether it's in line with his own preferred schedule or not. It's hard to say no when the "Your country needs you" argument is used. And it can be used with some force this year.
Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.
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