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Among Florida politicos, skepticism for Marco Rubio as VP

Inside the Washington Beltway and among Republican activists across the country, it often sounds like there's only one home run pick for vice president — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

Rubio, 40, overwhelmingly won a Conservative Political Action Committee Conference straw poll this month as the preferred vice presidential candidate. He finished well ahead of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 800 registered Republicans and independents released last week also found Rubio was the top VP choice, ahead of Rick Santorum, Christie and Sarah Palin.

But what about the politicos who know Rubio best? The latest Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll found significant skepticism about putting Rubio on the presidential ticket.

Among more than 100 Florida lobbyists, activists, political operatives and fundraisers who participated in the survey, Rubio was most frequently named as the best pick for vice president, regardless of the nominee.

Still, three-quarters of respondents did not name Rubio and only 37 percent said he would be a safe pick.

These are Florida politicos who paid close attention to Rubio's tenure as Florida House speaker. They are more likely to be acquainted with the baggage that surfaced in his 2010 Senate race — using Republican Party credit cards to pay for personal expenses, sometimes messy personal finances and sloppy adherence to financial disclosure requirements.

The Florida Insider Poll does underscore Rubio's potential strength as a running mate. More than six in 10 insiders said he would help the ticket nationally and three out of four — including 44 percent of Democrats surveyed and 90 percent of Republicans — said he would help deliver Florida to the GOP. Considering that it's close to impossible for Republicans to unseat President Barack Obama without winning Florida's 29 electoral votes, that alone could be reason enough to beg Rubio to join the ticket.

Florida's junior senator has repeatedly said he has no interest in running for vice president and won't be on the ticket, but 57 percent of our insiders predicted Rubio would accept the nomination if asked.

Twenty-three percent of the 113 Florida insiders who participated named Rubio as the best pick, 17 percent named Christie, 12 percent preferred Jeb Bush (he's never ruled it out that we know of, but it's sure hard to imagine him in a No. 2 role), and 7 percent said Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. Santorum, Virginia Gov. McDonnell, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio each received votes from nearly 3 percent of the insiders.

The survey included 65 Republicans, 39 Democrats, and nine independents. Check The Buzz blog, tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics, for the list of participants.

Different than 2008

Republican leaders who downplay the potential damage of a rough and prolonged presidential primary often cite the 2008 primary between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton as evidence it may not be so problematic in the long run. There are some key differences, however.

For one thing, polls showed Democrats remained considerably more enthusiastic about their choices in 2008 than Republicans today. For another, the extended contest helped Obama build campaign organizations in state after state as the race against Clinton continued — something that's not happening with the Republican field.

The Obama campaign now has 12 offices up and running in Florida, and last week campaign leaders moved into their new state headquarters, 1215 E 6th Ave., in Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood. The previous headquarters at 1702 N 14th Street will serve as a field office base for volunteer activities and voter outreach.

Mack's bad poll

Straw polls are often meaningless exercises, but this one feels potentially significant: The Florida Federation of Republican Women, after putting questions to the leading Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, last weekend held a straw poll vote where George LeMieux won the most votes, followed by Mike McCalister, then front-runner Connie Mack.

FFRW president Cindy Graves said Mack was favored going in, but LeMieux stood out.

"Members felt (Mack) just didn't have much red meat on the issues and possibly was just too generic with his answers," Graves said. "These women, some of them work 40 hours a week when the campaign really gets going, and they don't want to work for a milquetoast candidate. They want to work for someone who can win."

Slow start for Dems

State legislators this year have carved out an Orlando-area congressional district, District 27, essentially designed to ensure Florida's fast-growing Puerto Rican population has representation in the state's congressional delegation.

So far, though, Democrats have no Hispanic candidate for the Democratic-leaning district, where well-funded liberal firebrand Alan Grayson looks like the early front-runner.

"It gives me pause and makes me worry, but I would turn to my Hispanic brothers and sisters and say ... 'Where are you with your votes? Where are you with your candidate?' They should be more active," state Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9.

Cruz mostly discussed the Democrats' legal challenge of the new legislative and congressional districts during the interview, which airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

A little help

Amid all the turmoil in the Florida Senate about future leadership, it's easy to overlook how smoothly things are going in the Florida House. We hear Speaker-designate Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has brought on a pro — former Jeb Bush chief of staff Sally Bradshaw — to help him with the transition into the role.

Computer-assisted reporting specialist Connie Humburg contributed to this week's Buzz. Adam Smith can be reached at asmith@tampabay.com.

Winner of the week

Bill Nelson. George LeMieux's campaign is calling Connie Mack the Charlie Sheen of Florida politics due to his history of bar brawls. Mack's campaign calls LeMieux an offensive embarrassment. Looks like a nasty Republican U.S. Senate primary is just beginning, while incumbent Democrat Nelson enjoys the show and keeps filling his campaign account.

Loser of the week

John Thrasher. The Jacksonville state senator failed in a coup attempt to shove aside Orlando Sen. Andy Gardiner for the 2014 presidency. Gardiner teamed up with former rival Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who apparently has the pledges to be president in 2016. Thrasher may yet come out on top, though, depending on which side's candidates win elections.

Among Florida politicos, skepticism for Marco Rubio as VP 02/25/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 25, 2012 10:47pm]

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