The Republican veep announcement is coming later this morning and all indications are that the choice is Rep. Paul Ryan. The Wisconsin Congressman’s star has been shining brightly in the GOP for over a decade now, yet still represents a “fresh face” for the national electorate. However, Romney seems to have blown an opportunity here in Florida, the state where he will almost certainly get a bump from hosting the national convention later this month. Marco Rubio would have in all likelihood made it more complicated for Obama to carry Florida in November.
Two things have been consistent over the past two months: Marco Rubio is not the frontrunner but Rubio has significant portions of the intellectual conservative base such as talking heads and right wing national journalists behind him. While Paul Ryan does bring a much better resume to the VP slot than Rubio, the fact is that Rubio had more support among conservative activists nationally than Ryan or any other potential choice.
Rubio is a right winger despite the somewhat successful efforts to soften his image since election. The Republican rock star was one of only seven US Senators to get a perfect 100% score from the American Conservative Union in 2011. That score puts Rubio at the ideological extreme of the Senate. This is in line with Rubio’s standing as a star of the tea party movement and conforms well with his extreme rhetoric and voting record as a member of the Florida House.
As Florida House Speaker, Rubio pushed an extremist agenda on insurance, education and taxes while the Florida Senate was charged with watering down proposals once they left the House. Charlie Crist’s first two years as Governor were also spent tacking to the left and that put Rubio in a position where he was not aligned with the Governor’s office, giving him the freedom to promote the conservative agenda. Still, Rubio became the first House Speaker from Florida’s second largest media market since Democrat Tom Gustafson almost twenty years earlier and that allowed him to increase his profile among non politicos. That residual name ID helped him 2010 and would have helped the Republican ticket in 2012.
The ultimate question came down to this: Could Marco Rubio have helped Mitt Romney win Florida? The answer to this question is that Rubio certainly would not have hurt Romney in the state and could very well have helped him shave some of the margins off Obama’s projected victories in central and southeast Florida. Rubio is a media star in urban Florida, partly because of his ethnicity and party because he articulates a clear conservative vision for the state and nation. Many in the media who are obsessive about not appearing liberal give Rubio’s views and voting record a pass while promoting him as Republican version of President Obama. Unlike President Obama who spent much of his Presidency trying to build bridges to the other side, Rubio’s views polarize opinion and he has made no effort either as a State House member nor a US Senator to reach out to the other side and build consensus. This is precisely how conservatives like their leaders in today’s political arena.
Florida is going to be decided on the margins in this election and those margins aren’t decided necessarily by “swing voters,” who as we have pointed out time and again are a small percentage of the electorate in this state. Elections in this era are decided by voter turnout and voter enthusiasm. The swing voter era of the 1980s and 1990s has given way to a polarized electorate with voters in one camp or another. Increasing turnout and enthusiasm among a party’s base and expanding that to voters that share the same values. While Paul Ryan does help with the GOP base at least on economic issues he cannot create the type of local excitement in Florida, particularly urban Florida that Rubio would have created.
To the extent that swing voters exist in Florida, they vote largely based on personality and other non-issue related reasons. Rubio can hit on this personality based test, if swing voters really do exist. Democrats who continue to advocate a more moderate approach to issues do not understand Florida’s electorate in the 2000s after the changes in demographics and attitudes that have taken place in recent years. While moderation may work in suburbs of large Northern and Midwestern cities, or in states where the electorate is overwhelmingly conservative, Florida’s potential Democratic electorate is often concerned about issues such as environmental protection, gun control, and other social issues. The days when Florida voters were obsessed with crime and taxes are long gone, but some Democrats seem to believe the way back to a majority status in the state is to embrace yesterday’s issues. Rubio understands what the Democrats don’t. Motivating your base and exciting activists is the way to win elections in Florida circa 2012. His selection would have enhanced the GOP’s chances of carrying Florida.
Marco Rubio’s nomination for VP would have generated more enthusiasm among Florida Republicans than that of any other contender and probably would have created a slight bump in turnout, perhaps enough of a bump for Romney to carry the state.
Often times the Vice Presidential nominee makes little difference on election day. One exception was Lyndon Johnson in 1960. Though his scope is narrower, the margins will be thin and in Florida with Rubio could have made a real difference for the GOP come November.
But Romney seems to have blown this opportunity. His hope with Ryan is perhaps more based around the industrial midwest than Florida. It is possible that Ryan will have more of an impact nationally than Rubio would have, but this selection certainly means the Democrats dodged a bullet in Florida.