- Associated Press - Sunday, May 20, 2012

MIAMI — 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.

Both Mr. Rubio’s ties with U.S. Rep. David Rivera, a fellow GOP freshman from Miami who now is facing a federal probe into tax evasion, and the state party credit card matter surfaced during Mr. Rubio’s 2010 Senate campaign. While they didn’t have much effect, that doesn’t mean they would be ignored on the national stage.

State officials closed a criminal probe into Mr. Rivera 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.

In the past year, Mr. Rubio has publicly kept some distance from Mr. Rivera and said that his friend has some issues he must address on the campaign circuit.

If Mr. Rubio were to end up on the GOP presidential ticket or mount his own national campaign in the coming years, he likely would face questions about the scandal about the use of state GOP funds when he was the speaker of the Florida House.

The head of the party, Jim Greer, was forced to resign after revelations he and his second-in-command charged $1.5 million on party credit cards, much of it on luxurious hotels, fancy restaurants, chauffeured sedans and lavish entertaining. Mr. Greer’s trial is set to start July 30, just ahead of the Republican National Convention, and many GOP observers anticipate he will detail unethical use of party money by other high-ranking GOP officials.

Mr. Rubio spent more than $100,000 on the party card between 2006 and 2008, paying off about $16,000 in personal expenses and claiming the rest as official party business. His records from 2005, when he was lobbying to become Florida House speaker, never were released. When asked about using the party card for personal expenses, Mr. Rubio has said he sometimes just pulled the wrong card out of his wallet and he has called it a “lesson learned.”

Mr. Rubio long claimed his parents fled Fidel Castro’s rule. But it was recently disclosed that they arrived several years before Castro took power, although they quickly embraced the Cuban exile community as Castro turned toward communism. Mr. Rubio has said the dates he gave were based on his parents’ recollections.

There’s another part of Mr. Rubio’s upbringing that long had gone undisclosed, and the revelation is one that could turn off evangelicals who make up the base of the GOP.

Mr. Rubio was baptized as Mormon when his family lived for a few years in Las Vegas, a result of the influence of cousins who belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mr. Rubio returned to the Catholic Church as a young teen, and as an adult he has also frequently attended Baptist services.

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