A Strong Veepstakes Story from the Tampa Bay Times

Focus on Rubio’s deeds—not words—brings new insights

FLORIDA — Whenever Sean Hannity interviews Marco Rubio, he gushes like 12-year old smitten with the girl next-door. Hannity’s beating heart could be heard as he swooned through an introduction of the Florida GOP senator during his March 28 broadcast on Fox News.

And there is no better way to describe my next guest then as—a rising star. Now from the moment that Sen. Marco Rubio hit the political stage America took notice and so did the Republican Party….

Not surprisingly, Hannity quickly gets to the question that Rubio has been asked countless times—only with a touch of Hannity passion:

Does it give you reason to pause, or at least leave open the door, that, you know, if your country and if a presidential candidate calls on you because they are asking you to serve because they see the leadership qualities in you that maybe you don’t even see in yourself. Do you think you have an obligation to at least leave that door open?

Rubio, as always, was quick to dismiss any speculation that he would be anyone’s vice presidential running mate:

Well, as I’ve said, I am very honored and privileged to serve this country in the United States Senate and to represent the state of Florida in the United States Senate. That’s where my heart is, that’s where my mind is, that’s where my focus is. I don’t believe that I am going to be asked to be the vice presidential nominee. That’s not what I intend to be. That’s not what I want to be and that’s not what is going to happen.

Sounds convincing, but is it true? Hannity could have asked Rubio whether he is doing anything to position himself to become the nominee. But until Tampa Bay Times reporters Adam Smith and Alex Leary did a little digging, it was a question that no one had asked.

For months, there has been a non-stop string of national and Florida stories speculating about whether Rubio will be asked to be the vice presidential nominee. Typical is this NPR story that says Rubio’s “appeal is obvious. He’s a young, charismatic, conservative Hispanic.”

Then there was this New York Times Magazine interview in which reporter Andrew Goldman followed up a typical denial about the veepstakes question by asking if Rubio would lay a $10,000 wager on the subject. (An apparent reference to this episode.) Rubio said he did not have ten grand he could afford to lose. One can only wonder what Goldman would have done had Rubio taken the bet.

It is certainly clear that most reporters are skeptical about Rubio’s denial. You can add me to that club. During television appearances, I have frequently said that I do not believe Rubio would turn down the vice presidential nomination if he gets the call.

But no one, until this week, has looked beyond Rubio’s insistence that he is not trying to position himself to get the job. In a smartly done story, Smith and Leary took a closer look at the actions of Rubio and his advisers—and they conclude that Rubio has in fact been positioning himself to become the vice presidential nominee. Their lede:

For a guy who keeps insisting he has no interest in being vice president, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio appears to be feverishly positioning himself for the job.

Rubio this month took the unusual step of asking the Florida Ethics Commission to close out a complaint that he misused Republican Party and campaign money “to subsidize his lifestyle” while in the Legislature.

His political committee has spent more than $40,000 for investigators to research for negative attacks that could surface against him.

And last week the Florida senator announced he is rushing publication of his memoir to June from February. That will help him frame his story before a presumably less-flattering unauthorized biography is released in July and will ensure him waves of publicity before the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August.

Smith and Leary did extensive interviews, including one with Rubio, and put together a concrete 1,200-word story that convincingly demonstrates that Rubio is not merely sitting on the sidelines waiting for a phone call from the GOP nominee—with the intention of declining.

In the process, the reporters also came away with a quote that suggests that when the media pays close attention to politicians say, at least in some cases it really can make the politicians more careful with their words. Here’s how Rubio explained the decision to hire a researcher:

“You make it sound a lot more exciting than it really is,” said Rubio. “I think any time you’re involved in a political endeavor … it’s an ongoing process and you clearly want to be up to date on everything.

“The main thing is you don’t ever want to say something that’s not true, or be inaccurate, because the way words today are parsed in politics. Everything you say is going to be analyzed very carefully, so you want to make sure everything you say and do is 100 percent accurate.”

What the Times reporters did here is what has frequently kept them, and their partners at The Miami Herald, ahead of the competition on presidential campaign stories that involve Florida. The rest of the media in the Sunshine State should take note.

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Brian E. Crowley is editor of Crowley Political Report. A political journalist for more than two decades, Crowley is an analyst for WPTV NewsChannel 5 in West Palm Beach and is a principal of ImMEDIAcy Public Relations.