Mitt Romney is denying reports that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is not being vetted by his team. But that doesn't mean it's likely he'll tap Rubio as his running mate.
In retrospect, the biggest clue that the two wouldn't be an ideal pair took place Sunday, when the Republican presidential nominee awkwardly batted away questions about Obama's executive order on CBS' Face the Nation. It was clear that immigration was the last thing Romney wanted to talk about. Selecting Rubio would only underscore the divide in the Republican party between immigration reformers and restrictionists.
A Bloomberg poll released today highlighted how treacherous immigration is for Republicans, politically speaking: 64 percent of likely voters said they supported Obama's immigration policy, including 66 percent of independents. But Republicans are split down the middle, with 56 percent opposing it. Romney's been trying to avoid ticking off his base while moderating his position for the general election, but his sharp rhetoric on the subject during the primaries is making it difficult. And he wants desperately to focus relentlessly on the economy, viewing immigration as an unwanted distraction.
At the same time, the conventional wisdom that Romney needs to cut his large deficit with Latino voters to prevail over Obama may also be missing the mark. On his bus tour this week, Romney spent time in the white, working-class Rust Belt, hitting small towns without much of a Hispanic presence. It's becoming as important for Romney to win over white voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin as it is to appeal to Hispanics in Florida, Nevada and Colorado. As Ron Brownstein noted last week, Romney could win the election even if he loses the vast majority of minorities, thanks to Obama's Mondale-like standing among non-college educated white voters.
That means Romney could badly use a running mate with working-class appeal. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is at the top of many pundits' lists, but it may be another Midwesterner who campaigned energetically for Romney over the weekend that is getting renewed attention in Boston: former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty, who launched his Minnesota political career in 2001 by declaring the Republican party was "the party of Sam's Club, not just the country club."