- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 19, 2012

HOLLAND, Mich. — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Tuesday that his campaign is “thoroughly vetting” Marco Rubio as it searches for a running mate despite reports that the senator from Florida is not being considered.

ABC News and The Washington Post cited unnamed advisers in reporting that Mr. Rubio, Florida Republican, wasn’t on the short list for the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket.

“I can’t imagine who such people are, but I can tell you this: They know nothing about the vice presidential selection or evaluation process,” Mr. Romney told reporters Tuesday evening outside a Michigan ice cream shop. “The story was entirely false. Marco Rubio is being thoroughly vetted as part of our process.”

Earlier in the day, Mr. Romney had refused to comment on reports that Mr. Rubio, a rising star in Republican politics, wasn’t under consideration as a potential running mate.

The presumptive GOP nominee initially told Fox News only that “a number of people are being vetted” but that only two people — he and a senior adviser — know who’s on the list. He repeated that statement Tuesday evening but clarified Mr. Rubio’s status as a potential vice presidential pick.

The statement was an unusual departure from the secrecy that has surrounded Mr. Romney’s process in selecting a running mate. But it speaks, in part, to Mr. Rubio’s political influence among the Republican base and Hispanic voters.

Two Romney representatives would not say if or when Mr. Rubio had submitted paperwork for the vetting process.

The unanswered question was among several that lingered Tuesday as Mr. Romney’s campaign sought to counter media reports suggesting that Mr. Romney had bypassed one of the most popular Hispanic leaders serving in elected office.

Less than a week ago, President Obama won praise from Hispanic groups for announcing a plan allowing some young illegal immigrants to stay in the United States legally. Polls suggest that Hispanics overwhelmingly support Mr. Obama, but Mr. Romney and the GOP have been working to broaden their appeal among the growing demographic.

The vetting flap came on the day Mr. Rubio released a memoir and Mr. Romney concluded a six-state bus tour.

Asked about the reports during an appearance on Fox News, Mr. Rubio also refused to weigh in.

“I’m not commenting on the vice presidential process,” he said. “That’s been basically what we’ve said the whole time because, out of respect for Gov. Romney, the last thing he needs is to have to be addressing questions about this because really the campaign’s not about that.”

Mr. Rubio’s exclusion from Romney’s short list would disappoint some conservative activists, but it would not come as a complete surprise. While he offers obvious political benefits as a Hispanic leader from the swing state of Florida, Romney advisers have consistently said that Mr. Romney would give preference to those candidates with the greatest experience and ability to lead the nation.

A former state lawmaker, Mr. Rubio, 41, has served in the Senate for less than two years.

A handful of potential picks joined Mr. Romney on his bus tour in recent days as part of unofficial public tryouts for the No. 2 spot.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty traveled on Mr. Romney’s bus with him for two full days, on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and his wife, Jane, went along for the ride.

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