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Rubio's prospects as Romney running mate gaining momentum

We've dusted off our Marco Rubio Veep-O-Meter and found Florida's junior senator looking stronger as a prospective vice presidential pick for Mitt Romney.

Rubio in recent weeks has given well-received, substantive foreign policy speeches at the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations. He hit the trail with Romney and did fine. An unauthorized biography turns out to be mostly flattering, and the Beltway punditocracy no longer talks incessantly about an unvetted, risky Rubio.

An ABC News poll released Friday found that unlike other top-mentioned picks ­— Jeb Bush and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman — more Americans view Rubio favorably than unfavorably.

POLITICO's Mike Allen offered his "Final Four" based on Romneyworld intel: Rubio; Portman; former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty; and South Dakota Sen. John Thune.

In a PBS interview last week, Bush made another pitch for Rubio: "I admire him greatly," Bush said. "He speaks with great passion about American exceptionalism. I think he would lift the spirits of the campaign and provide some energy. Gov. Romney is running a very good campaign right now and closed the gap and leading in some polls, but I think this would be an added bonus."

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The Pinellas County GOP on Monday will hold a nonbinding straw poll for the U.S. Senate primary. Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux will be there, as will former U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon. But don't expect Senate front-runner Connie Mack IV, who hasn't appeared at any high-profile event in at least two months (since he lost two similar straw polls where audiences heard every candidate speak).

"I guess he doesn't want people to see he's not the Connie Mack," quipped Republican activist Chet Renfro, referring to former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack III, whose son and namesake appears to be benefiting mightily from his father's name recognition.

"We are focused on running our campaign against liberal Bill Nelson and have other commitments in southeast Florida and therefore not participating in their event," Mack spokesman David James said of the Pinellas event. "Any such straw poll therefore should not even include Mack's name."

Likewise, Mack's campaign said last week he would not participate in a July 26 statewide televised debate planned by the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9, Florida PBS and its member stations.

"It's clear the race for the U.S. Senate in Florida is now between Connie Mack, the Republican, and Bill Nelson, the Democrat," Mack campaign manager Jeff Cohen wrote in a letter to the Times. "A primary debate among Republicans would only serve to benefit Bill Nelson."

Polls suggest Mack has a point, even if the only qualification advantage he has over LeMieux or Weldon, a doctor, is his father's name.

"Connie Mack IV is not his father, and the more he speaks the more evident it becomes. When George and Mack are side by side, Mack immediately loses support because voters know we need serious people to solve our nation's problems. It is obvious Mack does not fit the bill," said LeMieux spokesman Ana Nix.

A poll released last week by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found Mack leading among Republicans with 34 percent support, compared with 13 percent for LeMieux, 10 percent for Mike McCalister and 6 percent for Weldon. Overcoming a 21 point lead in 65 days is a tall order. Still, one could argue Mack could use the practice.

"Winning the Republican primary in this race may prove to be a shallow victory anyway. Bill Nelson continues to lead all of his opponents by double digits, as has consistently been the case in PPP's polling on the contest. He's up 13 on both Mack and LeMieux at 49-36 and 48-35 respectively, 47-33 on McCalister, and 47-31 on Weldon," said PPP.

Jeb Bush gave Mack a big endorsement last week, and in St. Petersburg on Friday said he hadn't given much thought to whether Mack should debate. On the one hand, Mack is far ahead of his GOP rivals.

On the other: "I always found debates helpful to me," said Bush.

Scott scraping bottom

PPP also polled Gov. Rick Scott's favorability, and we're left wondering whether Miami's late face-eating zombie guy might beat him in a hypothetical matchup these days. Only 31 percent of Florida voters approve of Scott's performance and 56 percent disapprove. And this is stunning: 86 percent of voters don't know enough about Broward County state Sen. Nan Rich to have an opinion about her — the only Democrat already announced for the 2014 race — but she still would overwhelmingly beat Scott today, 47 percent to 35 percent.

"Some people have compared Scott to Wisconsin's (Republican Gov.) Scott Walker, saying he could have a similar sort of resurrection in his standing. But the lowest level of popularity Walker ever hit in our polling was 43 percent. That would be a record high for Scott if he ever got there," said PPP pollster Tom Jensen.

Allegations about Crist

As if the looming trial of former Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer wasn't sordid enough — legislative leaders living lavishly off donor money, efforts to pay off Greer to step down, charges that Greer stole more than $100,000 from the party — now we learn that Greer's lawyer threatened to press former Gov. Charlie Crist about alleged gay trysts and drunken behavior.

The details came to light Friday in documents released related to the case. They stem from Crist and his attorney contacting state law enforcement agents to report that Greer and his lawyer, Damon Chase, appeared to be trying to pressure Crist into changing his testimony about Greer by threatening to question Crist about allegedly trying to kiss Greer and about Crist allegedly having had gay relationships.

The Tampa Bay Times on Saturday published a story about Crist's attorney, John Morgan, reporting the perceived threats to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement but opted not to include allegations of gay affairs because there was no evidence they occurred.

Since then, multiple other media outlets reported the gay allegations. It's not the first time Crist has dealt with gay rumors and he has always denied them.

Greer is charged with fraud, money laundering and theft of almost $200,000 from the Florida Republican Party by creating Victory Strategies, a company that billed the party for consulting work. The trial is scheduled to start late next month in Orlando.

Take your pick

Once again, Floridians, brace yourselves. The average of recent polls compiled by RealClearPolitics shows Romney leading in the country's biggest battleground state by a whopping 0.2 percentage points — 46.2 percent for Romney and 46 percent for Barack Obama.

Partisans can choose their preferred poll from last week. Democratic PPP's May 31-June 2 poll (margin of error plus or minus 3.9 percentage points) found Obama leading in Florida 49 percent to 46 percent. The president was leading among women by 18 points, among Hispanics by 25 points, and among independents by 8 points.

Meanwhile, the May 31 through June 5 bipartisan Purple Strategies poll of Florida (margin of error plus or minus 4 percentage points) found Romney leading Florida 49 percent to 45 percent. It showed Romney leading among independent voters 54 to 34, and among women 48 to 46.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@tampabay.com.

Winner of the week

Connie Mack IV. He has the endorsements of Jeb Bush, Adam Putnam and Mitt Romney. He's leading in the polls by 20 points. The GOP Senate primary is starting to look like a foregone conclusion, even if Mack IV comes off more than a little arrogant for refusing to participate in a primary debate.

Loser of the week

Janet Napolitano. Rick Scott has solidified his reputation for divisiveness by pushing for controversial voter purges even as local elections officials from both parties express qualms. But under Napolitano, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has yet to offer an explanation why it won't help Florida create a more accurate list of potential ineligible voters.

Rubio's prospects as Romney running mate gaining momentum 06/09/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 9, 2012 11:55pm]

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