When Mitt Romney played word association with Jay Leno on Tuesday night, he may have betrayed the worst kept secret of his strategy to win the White House.
As Mr. Leno threw out the names of potential Republican vice-presidential candidates, Mr. Romney reserved the most coveted descriptor of them of all for Marco Rubio.
For Mr. Romney, the first-term Florida senator represents “the American dream.”
Mr. Rubio, considered by many Republicans as the party’s great Hispanic hope, returned the compliment on Wednesday by formally endorsing Mr. Romney for the nomination.
“There's no way that anyone can convince me that having a floor fight at the convention in Tampa in August is a recipe for victory,” Mr. Rubio told Fox News host Sean Hannity. “I'm endorsing Mitt Romney...He offers such a stark contrast to the president's record.”
While Mr. Rubio, 41, insisted that he neither wants nor intends to be Mr. Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, it will not stop the speculation that that is exactly what the son of Cuban immigrants is angling to become. And the odds makers favour him by far over any of the other names bandied about to join Mr. Romney on the GOP ticket.
Mr. Rubio appears to have found a sweet spot in the GOP, at once finding favour with the party’s conservative base, activist Tea Party groups and the Republican establishment.
His mentor, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, formally endorsed Mr. Romney last week, after the ex-Massachusetts governor left Rick Santorum in the dust in the Illinois primary.
Mr. Bush, whose father and ex-president George H. W. Bush was preparing to consummate his own choice of Mr. Romney at an event in Houston on Thursday, is known to be no Romney enthusiast. His public backing of the ex-Bain Capital chief led many party insiders to speculate it might have come with strings attached.
The younger Mr. Bush has made no secret of his hopes for Mr. Rubio, who became the youngest speaker of the Florida House of Representatives at 35 in 2006.
He called Mr. Rubio “dynamic, joyful, disciplined and principled” in an interview last week with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, suggesting he was the clear choice to become the GOP vice-presidential candidate.
“He is the best orator of American politics today, a good family man,” Jeb Bush said. “He is not only a consistent conservative, but he has managed to find a way to communicate a conservative message full of hope and optimism.”
Still, Mr. Rubio’s short time as a national political figure has not been without its hiccups.
The Washington Post revealed last year that Mr. Rubio, who had consistently portrayed himself as the son of Cuban exiles forced to flee Communism, had misstated key elements of his family story. His parents, he later conceded, came to the United States before the 1959 Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro.
The same Post reporter who broke that story, Manuel Roig-Franzia, has now written a biography of the junior Florida senator. And the publication date of The Rise of Marco Rubio has been moved up to June 19, the same day Mr. Rubio will release his autobiography titled An American Son: A Memoir. The Spanish version, Un Hijo Americano, will appear at the same time.
Earlier this year, Mr. Rubio released details from his book that described his family’s flirtation with Mormonism while he was a boy living in Nevada. Mr. Rubio was baptized a Mormon during that period, but the entire family rejoined the Catholic Church when they later moved back to Florida. In recent years, Mr. Rubio has attended a Southern Baptist church in Miami, as well as Catholic masses.
The revelation of Mr. Rubio’s Mormon past appeared to be an attempt not only to scoop Mr. Roig-Franzia, but also to get ahead of suggestions that Mr. Rubio’s Mormon links disqualified him from becoming Mr. Romney’s running mate. One Mormon on the GOP ticket is thought to be controversial enough.