One under-the-radar consequence of the Obama administration’s shift today in deportation announcement is that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the leading Hispanic voice in the Republican party, will now stand at the center of a critical debate heading into the fall — a role that could boost the chances of him emerging as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick.
It also could well exacerbate Republicans’ problem among Hispanic voters, which have grown over the past few years. A recent Wall Street Journal poll had Obama leading Romney among Latino registered voters 61 percent to 27 percent.
And those shifting political winds may well persuade Romney that the best/only way to counteract a major-league defeat among Hispanics is to put Rubio on the ticket.
“If in fact this announcement turns into more Latino enthusiasm for Obama, it is one more reason for Mitt Romney to look at Marco Rubio,” said Miami-based Republican strategist Ana Navarro.
A recent Quinnipiac poll showed that picking Rubio would give Romney a tangible boost in Florida. Outside his Cuban-heavy home state, Rubio’s potential impact is less clear.
But Rubio would bring to the Romney ticket not just his ethnic background but a sign of commitment to immigration issues and Hispanic voters. He’s done what Romney himself, fearing a backlash from anti-immigration hawks, has been unable to do.
Rubio has presented his own version of the DREAM Act, allowing some young illegal immigrants to stay in the country. (Romney has avoided taking a stand on the proposal.) The senator has criticized Republicans for “rhetoric that is harsh and intolerable and inexcusable.”
In fact, Rubio responded to Obama’s decision before Romney did, with a statement praising the goal but criticizing the method.
“Today’s announcement will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer, but it is a short term answer to a long term problem,” he said. “And by once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long term one.”
Romney later came out with his own statement, saying “the status of young people who come here through no fault of their own is an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis.”
Rubio’s ties to scandal-scarred Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.), along with questions about his family history, have made him look like a risky bet for the risk-adverse Romney. But Obama’s decision may force the GOP candidate’s hand.