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Rubio as running mate: Help for Romney, or 'Hispandering?'

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, left, with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Pennsylvania, April 23, 2012
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, left, with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Pennsylvania, April 23, 2012
Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

Now that Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney has said that Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is being vetted as a potential vice-presidential running mate pick, along with others, the debate over whether or not Rubio can help steer much-needed Latino voters toward Romney has resurfaced.

There's nothing set in stone, but Romney confirmed the vetting after ABC News reported that Rubio wasn't a contender, a story Romney denied. Rubio, who earlier this year said he wasn't interested, is keeping mum on the whole thing. Not that it's been an easy week for him, but that's another story.

Interestingly, on Monday, a Christian Science Monitor headline asked, "Did Obama's immigration move make Marco Rubio a more likely veep pick?" The move referred to, of course, is President Obama's announcement last Friday that he would not seek to deport some young undocumented immigrants, allowing them instead to apply for temporary legal status and work permits. Obama's plan more or less rendered moot a yet-to-be-filed proposal from Rubio that promised similar relief for undocumented youths attending college or joining the military. From the Monitor piece:

While experts have pointed out that Rubio, whose parents emigrated from Cuba, may not automatically appeal to all Hispanic voters, polls have shown that his hypothetical presence on the ticket does increase Romney's lead in Florida – a state Romney almost certainly will need to win. Rubio also has strong tea party credentials and a magnetic presence on the stump (something Romney himself lacks).

But most important, he would give Romney an instant voice of authority on Hispanic issues. And the historymaking nature of the pick should not be underestimated in its ability to energize Hispanics.

Which is all fair. But critics of a potential Romney-Rubio ticket have also pointed to the possible perception among Latino voters of pandering (or "Hispandering," a much-uttered term for which syndicated columnist Esther Cepeda recently provided a definition in the Miami Herald).

Yes, Rubio is Latino. And yes, he did recently argue for providing conditional legal status - although not a path to citizenship - for undocumented young people brought here as minors, something he described as "a humanitarian issue." But even as he did, there was skepticism that dates back to 2010, when then-candidate Rubio expressed a less lenient stance on immigration that initially won him Tea Party support and helped him land his Senate seat.

The fact that Rubio is Cuban American isn't entirely a deal-breaker, but it would be less of one if he were, say, Sen. Bob Menendez, a Cuban American Democrat from New Jersey with a pro-immigrant track record. Coming from South Florida's conservative Cuban immigrant enclave makes Rubio more of an outsider, especially among Latino voters in the West, the majority of whom are Mexican American, have a different immigration experience, and tend to lean left.

All that said, there are at least two things in Rubio's favor: Florida is a critical state to capture, and with the support of conservative Latino voters there, Rubio could have some sway in helping Romney win it. And while it never materialized, just the fact that Rubio proposed some form of immigration reform is more than other GOP veep candidates being considered can claim.

Still, might a Rubio veep pick might be seen by Latino voters and others as Romney grabbing the most likely semi-brown person to win him votes? Yes, and the perception crosses party lines. Conservative pundit Ann Coulter told Fox News's Bill O'Reilly recently, "If we're only picking Rubio because he's Hispanic, I'm just opposed to that...that's pandering."

Now it's your turn: What would you think of a Romney-Rubio GOP ticket? Could Romney stand to benefit from Rubio as running mate or not? How would it be perceived?