WASHINGTON — By repeatedly playing down the speculation and hype around him, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio executed a time-honored strategy of the veepstakes: Never let them see how much you want it.
Mitt Romney on Saturday passed over Rubio and named Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, opting for another young conservative star who is the architect of a plan that would dramatically reshape government and Medicare.
"Throughout his life, Mitt Romney has made great decisions, and choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate is a truly inspired choice," Rubio said. He said Ryan is a "courageous reformer who understands our nation's challenges, has proposed bold policy solutions to solve them, and has shown the courage to stand up to President Obama and other Washington politicians trying to tear him down."
Rubio, who repeatedly downplayed his prospects despite widespread media speculation, benefited immensely nonetheless. The ambitious Floridian is now spared the intense scrutiny and pressures of a national campaign.
He has four years left in his first Senate term — ending, coincidentally, the next time the White House is up for grabs.
Months of attention in the national news have helped Rubio build his profile and sell copies of his memoir about growing up as the son of Cuban immigrants.
He is expected to campaign for Romney across the country in the coming weeks and will join him on a bus tour through Florida on Monday. On Wednesday, Rubio will raise money for Romney in San Antonio, Texas.
Rubio was an attractive candidate. He is a new face in the Republican Party who straddles the establishment and the tea party, a gifted speaker with a compelling backstory. He is Hispanic and Republicans seek a greater appeal among Latino voters.
At the same time, Rubio presented challenges for Romney. He is 41 years old and is only two years into his first Senate term (though he served nine years in the Florida House, two as speaker). One of the main questions presidential nominees ask of their VP is, "Could this person step in as president?"
Ryan is only 42 but has served in Congress since 1999. His "Roadmap for America's Future," a proposal to eliminate the federal deficit, reform the tax code and reshape Medicare, has been a rallying point for Republicans. Ryan, like Rubio, is also beloved by tea party activists.
Rubio's warmth toward Romney has seemed to lack at times. He endorsed him well after Florida's primary in January and when it was increasingly clear Romney had secured the nomination. Ryan endorsed Romney before the Wisconsin primary, a critical time, and the two shared chemistry on the campaign trail. Both take a data-driven approach to politics.
Still, Rubio still seemed to be positioning himself for consideration, amping up his rhetoric toward Obama and taking steps to remove any doubts about him. His political committee has spent more than $40,000 for investigators to research for negative attacks that could surface against him.
He pushed up publication of his memoir to June, originally scheduled for October. He asked the Florida Ethics Commission to close a complaint filed against him in his 2010 Senate race.
Last month, the commission cleared the complaint against Rubio but an investigator had harsh words for Rubio, saying the level of "negligence" exhibited by Rubio's confusion between a GOP American Express card and his own MasterCard and failing to recognize the error on monthly statements was "disturbing."
His biography has also come under review. Earlier this year, The Tampa Bay Times and Washington Post reported that Rubio's parents came to the United States before Fidel Castro took over Cuba, not after as Rubio's official Senate biography said and he often implied during his political rise. Rubio replied they were still exiles because they could not go home.