MIAMI (AP) — For freshman Sen. Marco Rubio, a rising GOP figure seen as a possible Mitt Romney running mate, there are questions about whether potential vulnerabilities in his personal and political background might hold him back.
The 40-year-old Florida lawmaker has close ties to a colleague accused of questionable financial dealings. He once was enmeshed in a controversy over the use of the state party's credit card for his personal expenses. Since emerging on the national political scene, he has faced increased personal scrutiny. There are conflicting details about his parents' immigration from Cuba and his recently disclosed ties to the Mormon faith.
The effect of those issues on his political fortunes is the subject of debate in Republican circles in Washington, Florida and elsewhere as the Cuban-American senator with solid conservative credentials works to raise his profile beyond his home state and possibly position himself for a national role.
"Marco Rubio is a huge star in the Republican Party in much the same way that Barack Obama was in the Democratic Party between his convention speech in 2004 and his candidacy for the president," said Steve Schmidt, a top adviser to GOP Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. "There are a lot of pluses when you look at Marco Rubio as a potential vice presidential candidate, but there are also unknowns."
Rubio frequently is mentioned by Republican insiders as an attractive candidate to be Romney's vice presidential pick, partly because the GOP needs to attract Hispanic voters in pivotal states such as Nevada and Florida.
Rubio denies any interest in the No. 2 spot this year, but he's working hard to stay in the national spotlight. He recently gave a major foreign policy address in Washington. He's talking about writing a bill to allow some young illegal immigrants to remain and work in the country without citizenship. Next month, he'll release a memoir.
The country is only just starting to get to know Rubio and his political vulnerabilities, though Florida residents know both well.
Both Rubio's ties with U.S. Rep. David Rivera, a fellow GOP freshman who now is facing a federal probe into tax evasion, and the state party credit card matter surfaced during Rubio's 2010 Senate campaign. While they didn't have much effect, that doesn't mean they would get a pass on the national stage.
"Floridians may be numb to these hits because of the rough-and-tumble nature of politics in the state, when it's looked at by a national audience it may not be as palatable," said Abe Dyk, a political strategist who managed the 2010 Senate campaign of Rubio's Democratic challenger.
Rubio and Rivera met in 1992, during the campaign of former Republican Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a fellow South Florida Cuban-American. The two rose through the ranks in the Statehouse with Rivera oftentimes playing bad cop to the more congenial Rubio.
During the legislative session, they shared a Tallahassee town house, which a bank began foreclosure proceedings on in 2010. Rubio and Rivera made only partial payments on that mortgage for five months in 2010; at that time, he held jobs as a consultant and professor. Rubio has said the missed payments were due to a dispute over the terms of the mortgage.
State officials closed a criminal probe into Rivera's personal financial dealings without filing charges but didn't clear him entirely. They cited Florida's brief statute of limitations and its lax campaign finance laws for not charging him with living off of his campaign funds and failing to disclose his income.
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