Courting Marco
The junior senator from Florida stays mum on his VP prospects.


Robert Costa

Over the weekend, Marco Rubio went mum.

To the disappointment of political junkies, the freshman Florida senator once again declined a chance to play Washington’s favorite parlor game: speculating on the vice-presidential sweepstakes.

“The last thing [Mitt Romney] needs is those of us in the peanut gallery to be saying what we would or would not do,” Rubio said on CNN’s State of the Union. “I’m not going to even discuss the process anymore.”

Rubio’s comments are hardly a surprise. He has been swatting away the chatter about his likely contention for the GOP’s number-two slot since his ascension to the upper chamber. During nearly every editorial-board meeting, radio interview, and television appearance, he has been asked the same question. And every answer he gives, like the one he gave Sunday, has been the same: He’s flattered but not interested.

But the talk about his prospects, Rubio associates acknowledge, will not fizzle simply because Rubio clammed up on a Sunday talk show. Behind the scenes, Rubio’s political team is preparing for what could be a months-long, nonstop discussion about the “process” and Rubio’s rising profile.

Within Rubio’s broad political circle, from his allies to his foes, there is an open debate over whether Team Rubio’s response to the veep gossip is focused on snuffing out the idea or stoking it.

On Capitol Hill, Rubio’s friends talk about how the senator is working tirelessly for Florida and becoming a strong voice on foreign policy. On the veep question, he is said to take the same position in private as he does publicly. According to sources close to him, Rubio doesn’t mind the spotlight — it gives him a chance to highlight issues important to him, such as GOP outreach to Hispanics and the fight for religious freedom — but he’s not seduced by it.

Beyond that, as much as Rubio enjoys the opportunity to be a new national force, he is not, in any sense, campaigning to be vice president, Rubio insiders insist. He wants to help Romney, who has frequently asked Rubio to join him on the trail, but he is not eager to leave the Senate, where he would like to do more to help enact conservative policies and elect conservative candidates.

“I really don’t believe that he is looking to be [vice president],” says Jose Mallea, a Rubio confidant who managed his 2010 campaign. “There is no strategy session going on behind closed doors about how to become [Romney’s pick]. He is not looking for that.”

“Now, I haven’t spoken to him directly about it, but every time we have a conversation, it’s about ideas and policies — about the direction of the country,” Mallea says. “That’s what drives him, and that’s what he enjoys talking about — that, and discussing the upcoming NFL draft.”