By Carl Leubsdorf
Ambitious American politicians from Lyndon Johnson to George Bush to Joe Biden had to be tapped for vice president to achieve their goal of national political office.
That will again be true if Mitt Romney fills the 2012 GOP ticket with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, or former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
But one potential Republican running mate already looks like someone who could reach the top on his own; how soon depends on Romney’s fate.
He is Marco Rubio, the charismatic Cuban-American senator from Florida whom many see as the GOP’s Barack Obama, a history-making figure who could transform the image of both party and country.
Both are smart, ambitious, enormously attractive figures whose ability to dazzle audiences helped fuel their meteoric political rises.
Like Obama, Rubio has written his autobiography at an early age and seemed to relish the comparison with Obama when moderator David Gregory recently made it on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Hopefully, in book sales too,” cracked the smiling 41-year-old senator.
In deciding to seek the Senate in 2010, Rubio disclosed, “I studied his (2004) Senate run.”
Unlike Obama, Rubio achieved major legislative leadership positions. His politics are as conservative as Obama’s were liberal, similar to those of GOP colleagues but with a softer edge.
Rubio differs from most Republicans on immigration, an issue he said “will never be solved in a reasonable and a responsible way until it is significantly depoliticized.”
He opposes the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for young people brought here illegally as children, but was exploring a compromise to help some of them when Obama pre-empted his effort and announced he was suspending deportation of up to 1 million illegal youths, pending enactment of a permanent plan.
One big question is whether Republicans would nominate a Hispanic, especially one whose Cuban background differs from the Mexican, Puerto Rican and Central American heritage of most Latino Americans. Still, Rubio is looking past 2012 – and the Senate.
“If I do a good job in the Senate, if I’m a serious policymaker, if I take my time to put forward bills as opposed to, you know, bumper-sticker solutions, like I’ve tried to do with this immigration issue, then I think six years from now, I’ll have a lot of opportunities to do different things in politics, outside of politics,” he told Gregory.
“My experience has been that if you do a good job at your job, you’ll have other opportunities, including some you’ve never expected.”
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.