Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants and a rapidly rising star in the Republican Party, emerged this weekend as the clear favorite potential vice presidential pick of conservative activists, according to two polls sponsored by The Washington Times.
Conservative activists meeting at the Conservative Leadership Conference in Las Vegas and at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Chicago on Friday both said Mitt Romney, the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee, still needs to work on shoring up his conservative credentials, and Mr. Rubio, of Florida, was the top choice for running mate.
In The Washington Times-CLC poll in Nevada, Mr. Rubio was the pick of about 28 percent of activists, while in a broader survey, The Washington Times-CPAC poll, taken in Chicago, Mr. Rubio was the choice of 30 percent.
Chicago activists placed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie second with 14 percent, while in Las Vegas, Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was runner-up with 18 percent of the vote.
Mr. Rubio, who served in Florida's Legislature before scoring a stunning upset in that state's U.S. Senate race in 2010, has said he does not expect to be on the GOP ticket this year — though he actively has campaigned with Mr. Romney.
Another freshman lawmaker who could be in the running is Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a former White House budget director and ambassador for U.S. trade under President George W. Bush. But activists were less sold on him, giving him less than 2 percent of the vote in Chicago.
Last week's conservative hero, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, didn't see much of a boost from his surprisingly easy defeat of a recall sponsored by organized labor. The Wisconsin governor picked up less than 3 percent at both the Chicago and Las Vegas gatherings.
Mr. Romney, a former one-term governor of Massachusetts, had trouble winning conservatives over to his campaign during the GOP primaries, though with the race now a matchup between him and President Obama, many of those activists are rallying to his side.
Still, they say there's more he could do. Asked what criteria Mr. Romney should use to pick a running mate, a plurality of activists in Chicago said he should find someone who reaches out to conservative elements of the GOP. Reaching out to independents and Democrats trailed well behind.
Less than 5 percent of those activists said Mr. Romney should focus on geography and choose someone he thinks can help him win Florida's critical electoral votes in November.
On issues, 45 percent of activists in Chicago said deficits and the federal debt top the list of issues facing the next president — even ahead of turning around the economy, which was ranked No. 1 by 39 percent.
Those findings bolstered the conventional wisdom that this year's election will be decided almost entirely on domestic pocketbook issues. The decline in cultural values, the international debt crisis, and security threats from a nuclear Iran or North Korea barely registered as issues.
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