Political Vulnerabilities in Sen. Rubio's Past?

By: Laura Wides-Monoz and Brendan Farrington, AP
By: Laura Wides-Monoz and Brendan Farrington, AP

Miami, FL (AP) -- May 19, 2012 --

For freshman Sen. Marco Rubio, a rising GOP figure seen as a possible Mitt Romney running mate, there are questions about whether potential vulnerabilities in his personal and political background might hold him back.

The 40-year-old Florida lawmaker has close ties to a colleague accused of questionable financial dealings. He once was enmeshed in a controversy over the use of the state party's credit card for his personal expenses. Since emerging on the national political scene, he has faced increased personal scrutiny. There are conflicting details about his parents' immigration from Cuba and his recently disclosed ties to the Mormon faith.

The effect of those issues on his political fortunes is the subject of debate in Republican circles in Washington, Florida and elsewhere as the Cuban-American senator with solid conservative credentials works to raise his profile beyond his home state and possibly position himself for a national role.

"Marco Rubio is a huge star in the Republican Party in much the same way that Barack Obama was in the Democratic Party between his convention speech in 2004 and his candidacy for the president," said Steve Schmidt, a top adviser to GOP Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. "There are a lot of pluses when you look at Marco Rubio as a potential vice presidential candidate, but there are also unknowns."

Rubio frequently is mentioned by Republican insiders as an attractive candidate to be Romney's vice presidential pick, partly because the GOP needs to attract Hispanic voters in pivotal states such as Nevada and Florida.

Rubio denies any interest in the No. 2 spot this year, but he's working hard to stay in the national spotlight. He recently gave a major foreign policy address in Washington. He's talking about writing a bill to allow some young illegal immigrants to remain and work in the country without citizenship. Next month, he'll release a memoir.

The country is only just starting to get to know Rubio and his political vulnerabilities, though Florida residents know both well.

Both Rubio's ties with U.S. Rep. David Rivera, a fellow GOP freshman who now is facing a federal probe into tax evasion, and the state party credit card matter surfaced during Rubio's 2010 Senate campaign. While they didn't have much effect, that doesn't mean they would get a pass on the national stage.

"Floridians may be numb to these hits because of the rough-and-tumble nature of politics in the state, when it's looked at by a national audience it may not be as palatable," said Abe Dyk, a political strategist who managed the 2010 Senate campaign of Rubio's Democratic challenger.

Rubio and Rivera met in 1992, during the campaign of former Republican Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a fellow South Florida Cuban-American. The two rose through the ranks in the Statehouse with Rivera oftentimes playing bad cop to the more congenial Rubio.

During the legislative session, they shared a Tallahassee town house, which a bank began foreclosure proceedings on in 2010. Rubio and Rivera made only partial payments on that mortgage for five months in 2010; at that time, he held jobs as a consultant and professor. Rubio has said the missed payments were due to a dispute over the terms of the mortgage.

State officials closed a criminal probe into Rivera's personal financial dealings without filing charges but didn't clear him entirely. They cited Florida's brief statute of limitations and its lax campaign finance laws for not charging him with living off of his campaign funds and failing to disclose his income.

In the last year, Rubio has publicly kept some distance from Rivera and has said that his friend has some issues he must address on the campaign trail. Still, Rubio threw a small Washington fundraiser for Rivera last week. So far, Rubio hasn't faced blowback from his friendship with Rivera.

"It's tough to say how that will play out," says Emilio Gonzalez, a consultant who served in the Bush administration and sees Rubio as a potentially formidable presidential candidate in 2016.

If Rubio were to end up on the GOP presidential ticket or mount his own national campaign in the coming years, he all but certainly would face questions about the scandal over the use of state GOP funds when he was the speaker of the Florida House.

The head of the party, Jim Greer, was forced to resign following revelations he and his second-in-command charged $1.5 million on party credit cards, much of it on luxurious hotels, fancy restaurants, chauffeured sedans and lavish entertaining. Greer's trial is set to start July 30, just ahead of the Republican convention, and many Republican observers anticipate he will detail unethical use of party money by other high-ranking GOP officials.

Rubio spent more than $100,000 on the party card between 2006 and 2008, paying off about $16,000 in personal expenses and claiming the rest as official party business. His records from 2005, when he was lobbying to become Florida House speaker, never were released. When asked about using the party card for personal expenses, Rubio has said he sometimes just pulled the wrong card out of his wallet and he has called it a "lesson learned."

He also has had to answer criticism for how he spent money donated to two political committees he formed - including payments to relatives. He has acknowledged the bookkeeping for at least one of the accounts was sloppy.

Then there's his family's background.

Rubio long claimed his parents fled Fidel Castro's rule. But it was recently disclosed that they arrived several years before Castro took power, although they quickly embraced the Cuban exile community as Castro turned toward communism. Rubio has said the dates he gave were based on his parents' recollections.

There's another part of Rubio's upbringing that long had gone undisclosed, and the revelation is one that could turn off evangelicals who make up the base of the GOP.

Rubio was baptized as Mormon when his family lived for a few years in Las Vegas, thanks to the influence of cousins who belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Rubio returned to the Catholic Church as a young teen, and as an adult he has also frequently attended Baptist services.

When it comes to the vice presidency, Rubio's greatest liability may be one only time can resolve.

"I suspect that the Romney campaign is going to pick someone who is viewed as unquestionably qualified for the office," said Schmidt, who was intimately involved in McCain's selection of Sarah Palin. "To the extent that (Rubio's) in his first term, he's in the first two years of his term and he's 40 years old probably doesn't help him."


Farrington reported from Tallahassee, Fla.

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  • by Anonymous on May 21, 2012 at 11:44 AM
    We need him as Senator. Unfortunately, right now he only cancels out Billy Nellson's vote. Bill Nelson needs to be voted out so we get two Senate votes instead of a zero with Senator Rubio canceling out lefty loon Bill Nelson.
  • by TBD on May 21, 2012 at 10:07 AM
    The first sign you will find in  a disgruntled citizen is that they demonize the other party, some republicans and democrats are notorious in such ignorant behavior. For some uncivilized  reason people believe their position or beliefs to be of the righteous with hateful disregard to others. Close minded individuals are cancerous in our diverse society. 
  • by 62nitro Location: Tallahassee on May 20, 2012 at 07:27 PM
    You libs are really getting desperate. So what if his folks moved here before the communist revolution in Cuba. It's still a great American success story and it drives libs nuts. If you want too get picky, how about repeating the line Obama used about his ties to the civil rights march in Selma, Ala? Whats that? You don't remember that one? His father and mother "hooked up" there and the result was a baby named Barack Hussain Obama. He forgot one small detail. He was born 4 years before said march. Just another "Fact Check" mistake, huh?
    • reply
      by Duh on May 21, 2012 at 10:59 AM in reply to 62nitro
      He is still a communist. His parents are still communists. What part of that don't you understand?
  • by Frank on May 20, 2012 at 03:24 PM
    If obama's past, which includes him not being born in the United States, is not a liability, then there are no liabilities for any candidate ever again. They can be Mafia, muslim brotherhood, plo, hamas, al quada, communists, nazis, or anything else. obama's past trumps any on the preceding list.
  • by Anonymous on May 20, 2012 at 06:34 AM
    ""I suspect that the Romney campaign is going to pick someone who is viewed as unquestionably qualified for the office," said Schmidt, who was intimately involved in McCain's selection of Sarah Palin. "To the extent that (Rubio's) in his first term, he's in the first two years of his term and he's 40 years old probably doesn't help him.""---Huh!? How "unquestionably qualified" was Obama? Nor did "being in the first two years of his term and he's 40 years old", seem to matter in regards to Obama.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on May 20, 2012 at 08:20 AM in reply to
      The democrats (and he is a closet demo)twist and turn and lie and change the truth in any way to win an election...be wary of them. specially obama, he does not care about the middle class or America. He is hell-vent in destroying both.
      • reply
        by grady on May 20, 2012 at 11:51 AM in reply to
        thanks for the comments from bizarro world
  • by Ray Star Location: WTAL on May 20, 2012 at 06:18 AM
    The media weasels have so much invested in Obama-Biden they pretend not to hear the deep rumble. It's the approaching avalanche of proud Americans ready to vote for anyone but Obama-Biden. Avalanche; like a landslide but even more powerful, devastating, and in this case humiliating to Obama supporters. America does not care for media weasels petty factoids regarding the Romney-Rubio ticket. America will devastate the Obama-Biden, Obama-Hilliary, or the Obama-Gay-Person VP ticket hands down. (You did not know the White House is so desperate that there is serious consideration being given to replacing Biden with a Gay person.) There I told you first.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on May 20, 2012 at 08:17 AM in reply to Ray Star
      Nah...he will be replaced with 'Hell'ary Clinton
      • reply
        by Josephine on May 20, 2012 at 06:44 PM in reply to
        I see your point replacing Joe would be incredibly expensive and the country will not go for it this late in the game anyway. We're just gonna spend 20,000 on shoes, wigs, dresses, and makeup in order to have Joe appear in drag as Josephine for the remainder of the campaign.
    • reply
      by COMMUNIST CUBA on May 20, 2012 at 08:53 AM in reply to Ray Star
      Ray Star, your vitriolic comments and fallacious name-calling do not help justify any of your points. It just shows you incapable of having civil discourse about ideas and persons you disagree with.
      • reply
        by Oh yeah on May 20, 2012 at 02:32 PM in reply to COMMUNIST CUBA
        Oh, yes they do. But they also provide the libtards with an easy out. They will focus on the words while ignoring the message. Know anyone that describes?
        • reply
          by Anonymous on May 21, 2012 at 06:10 AM in reply to Oh yeah
          Wow, "libtards", did you make that up all by yourself? How fortunate you are to be free from the ravages of intelligence.
  • by STEVE on May 20, 2012 at 05:55 AM
    I can not believe this vetting attempt on Rubio when Obama is yet to be vetted.
  • by mc on May 20, 2012 at 05:41 AM
    The liberal media will look over his life with a fine tooth comb and find someone some where that went to kindergarden with Rubio and will tell that he shot spitwads at him and spilled some girls milk at lunch. But the mainstream media will not look at anything questionable about Obama and cover things up for him, But let a Republican have a speeding ticket fourty years ago and they will find the officer who wrote it even if that officer is in a nursing home now. SNA is right jounalism is dead and now since it is dead it can vote several times for democrats .
  • by Jane on May 20, 2012 at 04:14 AM
    Aside from his ties to communist Cuba, I don't see any problems here.
    • reply
      by STEVE on May 20, 2012 at 11:37 AM in reply to Jane
      Are you referring to the Cuba that his parents left to get away from communist oppression? The Cuba where businesses,farms and homes were taken from the middle class and re-distributed to the masses to the point no one had anything?
    • reply
      by G on May 20, 2012 at 01:35 PM in reply to Jane
      Rubio cannot be VP pick because he can never become POTUS. Neither of his parents were born in the USA, he cannot legally be President. Case closed. Unless of course you decide to scrap the Constitution.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on May 20, 2012 at 04:44 PM in reply to G
        • reply
          by Anonymous on May 21, 2012 at 06:11 AM in reply to
          Oh, look everybody! A birther! Moron.
  • by SNA on May 19, 2012 at 08:18 PM
    Why would the authors of this "article" quote the person largely responsible for picking Sarah Palin for VP last time. That day guaranteed the election of Obama. The writers brought it up on purpose as part of this hack job. Journalism is extinct - this is Exhibit A.
    • reply
      by Moishe on May 20, 2012 at 01:02 PM in reply to SNA
      The choice that guaranteed the election of Obama was McCain. He was a poor choice to begin with. The addition of Palin gave the campaign a boost. The liberal media did a hatchet job on her much akin to the AP's article on Rubio.
      • reply
        by grady on May 20, 2012 at 03:12 PM in reply to Moishe
        uhhh...... she quit in the middle of her term as governor. to do what? sell herself and her book. real boost to nobody but herself.
        • reply
          by Docker on May 21, 2012 at 04:01 AM in reply to grady
          So what? Obama quit the senate in the middle of his first term to preside over the most incompetent and corrupt administration ever.
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