Two years ago, Marco Rubio was still a heavy underdog in a Senate primary with a popular incumbent governor. Today, he’s the potential favorite to become the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee.

It’s still way to early to game out odds on potential vice presidential candidates, but nearly everyone you talk to agrees that Rubio is the total package when it comes to a running mate.

“Rubio checks more boxes than anyone,” said GOP strategist Kevin Madden, a former adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. “He’s someone with an Hispanic heritage who’s beloved by the conservative base of the party and he has been elected statewide in a crucial electoral battleground.”

He’s also young, presentable and a good speaker, as he showed in a speech Tuesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California (video here) — his first major public speech as a senator. (He even saved Nancy Reagan from falling as he led her down the aisle!)

But given that Rubio has been in the Senate for less than a year — and what happened when Republicans plucked a little-known first-term governor from obscurity in 2008 — it begs the question:

How soon is too soon?

If you’re asking Rubio, it is too soon — at least for him. The senator has said repeatedly that he won’t be anyone’s vice presidential running mate in 2012, and his spokesman reiterated that in a statement to The Fix.

“Senator Rubio is flattered to be mentioned in this light, but he is fully committed to serving Floridians in the U.S. Senate,” spokesman Alex Burgos said. “He will not be on the ballot in 2012.”

But that isn’t likely to do much to stop the speculation next year — depending upon who the nominee is, of course. (If the pick is an older, more establishment pick like Romney, for example, Rubio will be seen as a natural fit for the presidential ticket.) And if sincerely asked by your party’s presidential nominee, it’s hard to turn down the No. 2 job.

Republican consultant Doug Heye said today’s political environment means realtively inexperienced politicians like the 40-year-old Rubio cannot be ignored. Heye pointed to other fast-risers like President Obama, Rep. Michele Bachmann and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

“We live in a world where compelling party figures become national figures rather quickly,” Heye said, comparing Rubio to “toothpaste that can’t be put back in the tube.”

Other Republicans, though say more seasoning could make Rubio into an even-more-valuable asset down the line for the GOP.

Even they, though, are tempted by the bright, shiny thing in front of them.

“What ultimately is best for the party is for him to do what he thinks he is best qualified to do,” said GOP strategist David Norcross. “I come down narrowly on the side of staying in the Senate for now. If he thinks he knows better, he might well be right.”

Tea Party Express founder Sal Russo compared the situation to Reagan in 1968, when many thought it was too early for him after just two years as governor of California.

In the end, Russo said, the extra seasoning paid off.

“I didn’t feel this way at the time, but Reagan used those eight years (as governor) to learn a lot of those things about governing that he didn’t know,” Russo said.

(Unlike Reagan, of course, Rubio had experience in the state legislature — rising to speaker of the state House — before ascending to statewide office.)

Whether Rubio, like Reagan, will have to wait eight more years to make his first big splash on the national stage remains to be seen.

But as of right now, there are plenty of people in the GOP who would rather not wait.

Perry backs away on 16th Amendment: Texas Gov. Rick Perry has already toned down his rhetoric on Social Security. Now he’s backing off a bit from a proposal to repeal the 16th Amendment.

In his 2010 book, “Fed Up,” Perry suggested a repealof the 16th Amendment (which allows Congress to levy income taxes), calling it “the great milestone on the road to serfdom.” In place of income taxes, he proposed switching to a sales tax-based system.

Perry spokesman Mark Miner told the Plum Line that Perry still believes “the best course of action in the near future is a simpler, flatter and broader tax system.” But he added, “We can’t undo more than 70 years of progressive taxation and worsening debt obligations overnight.”

Miner says the comments “do not distance from the book,” but he didn’t mention repeal at all — a sign that Perry is not as interested in this idea as he was last year.

N.H. GOP chair levels explosive charge about RGA: Embattled New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Jack Kimball says that he has been told the Rebublican Governors Association and GOP elected officials are witholding money from the state party until he steps aside.

Kimball confirmed to a local blog that the GOP state House speaker told him $100,000 was being withheld from the state party as long as he remained as speaker. But the RGA is denying it.

“Recent news reports about the RGA’s commitment to New Hampshire are wrong,” RGA spokesman Mike Schrimpf told the Boston Globe.

While such an arrangement wouldn’t necessarily be illegal, this kind of backroom political dealing being aired in public doesn’t help anybody.

McCaul for Senate?: Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) is still considering running for Senate, even as it appears less likely now that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is in the race.

McCaul, the wealthiest member of Congress according to recent financial disclosure forms, would not rule out a run in a statement issued to the Austin American-Statesman.

“My goal remains to ensure that the most qualified person represents Texas in the United States Senate,” McCaul said.

But Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz reported later Tuesday that McCaul appears unlikely to run.

McCaul and his personal wealth would certainly add a new dimension to the Senate race. Dewhurst is also very wealthy and is the early favorite, given his statewide profile. But former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and former state solicitor general Ted Cruz are also in the mix.

Nebraska Dems hit Bruning: The GOP primary is just beginning in the Nebraska Senate race, but the state Democratic Party is wasting no time going after the frontrunner, state Attorney General Jon Bruning.

The Democrats are running full-page ads in both the Lincoln Journal-Star and the Omaha World-Herald hitting Bruning for expanding the budget of the attorney general’s office and for accepting tens of thousands of dollars in gifts. They also point out that his investments have increasd significantly in value and accuse him of not working hard enough for his salary.

The ad (here’s a copy of the one running in the Lincoln paper) features a cartoon of Bruning lounging in a hammock, surrounded by bags of money.

“Oh wily, crafty Bruning / Raccoon-like…that is he. / Collecting a million dollars / For an office he barely sees!” reads the poem.


Former congressman Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.) has announced he will seek a rematch with freshman Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.).

Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree won the runoff in the Democratic Mississippi governor primary and will face Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) in the general election in November. Bryant is a heavy favorite to succeed Gov. Haley Barbour (R).

A congressional candidate in Texas posts a web video of him (not a joke) trying to talk to donkeys.

Another new low in Obama’s Gallup approval rating: 38 percent.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush defends Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) for denying global warming.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) released a poll showing him leading a matchup with Rep. Howard Berman (D). Sherman would lead a three-way race with 42 percent, while a Republican would take 26 percent and Berman would take 17 percent. (California has a new open primary system.)


David Axelrod’s last campaign” — Daniel Libit, Chicago Magazine

Republicans redraw district lines to shore up newest House members elected in 2010 GOP wave” — AP

Why another Democrat wouldn’t do better than Obama in 2012” — Nate Silver, New York Times


Obama golfs during earthquake, inspires critics

Fact Checker: Huntsman wants ‘strategic dialogue’ with China

Romney wins key Pawlenty supporters