WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senator Marco Rubio, preparing to hit the campaign trail with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, touted former Florida governor Jeb Bush on Sunday as a “fantastic” choice as Romney’s running mate but remained coy about whether he himself would accept such an offer.
Rubio, a rising star in the Republican Party and one of the nation’s leading Hispanic politicians, declined to repeat his previous statement that he would turn down any offer to become the party’s vice presidential nominee this year.
”Our nominee, Mitt Romney, the leader of the Republican Party, has a vice presidential (selection) process in place,“ Rubio said on CNN’s ”State of the Union“ program. ”And I think from this point moving forward, I think it’d be wise for all Republicans to kind of respect that process, myself included, and say moving forward, we’re going to let his process play itself out.
“The last thing he needs are those of us in the peanut gallery to be saying what we would or would not do,” said Rubio, who is due to campaign with Romney on Monday in the key election battleground state of Pennsylvania.
Rubio previously has said he would turn down any offer by Romney to be his running mate on the Republican ticket. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and private equity executive, is seeking to defeat President Obama, a Democrat, in the November 6 election.
Rubio, a first-term senator from Florida, has often been mentioned as a potential vice presidential pick for Romney, and may be able to help Republicans bring in Hispanic voters wary of the party’s views on issues like illegal immigration. As a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement, he also could appeal to voters who find Romney too moderate.
But Rubio on Sunday touted Jeb Bush, former President George W. Bush’s brother and former President George H.W. Bush’s son, as a potential Romney running mate.
“I think he’d be a fantastic vice president,” Rubio said.
Told that Jeb Bush had said he hoped Rubio would be willing to accept the Republican vice presidential nomination, Rubio replied, “Well, that’s very nice of Jeb. I hope he’ll say yes if future President Romney asks him.”
An apparent slip of the tongue by Rubio in a media interview last week only fueled speculation about the vice presidency.
Rubio said, “Three, four, five, six, seven years from now, if I do a good job as vice president, I‘m sorry ... if I do a good job as a senator instead of a vice president, I’ll have a chance to do all sorts of things, including commissioner of the NFL (National Football League), which is where the real power is.”
Rubio said he expects Romney to do better among Hispanic voters than Republican candidate John McCain did in his loss to Obama in 2008.
Many Republicans advocate a crackdown on the millions of illegal immigrants in the United States, most of whom are Hispanics, and Republican-controlled legislatures in several states have passed laws targeting them.
Even some fellow Republicans have mocked Romney for his support of “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants. Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives who is still challenging Romney for the Republican nomination despite having little chance of success, has called Romney’s plan a “fantasy.”
“You see this notion that somehow in order to appeal to Hispanic voters you have to support illegal immigration, is just not true,” Rubio said.
But he added: “Other than only just talking about what we’re against, you have to talk about what you’re for and what I have said consistently is that the Republican Party is and must become and continue to be the pro-legal immigration party.”
Despite Obama’s high approval ratings among Latinos, many in the Hispanic community are frustrated that he has failed to deliver on his promise of immigration reform within his first term in office.
Another Republican sometimes mentioned in vice presidential talk, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, last year decided not to run for president for family reasons, and on Sunday said those same issues would keep him out of the running for vice president.
Asked if Romney has sounded him out about the job, Daniels told the “Fox News Sunday” program: “We haven’t had the conversation and I don’t expect to have it.”
If Romney did ask him to be on the Republican ticket, Daniels said his response would be: “I think I would demand reconsideration and send Mr. Romney a list of people I think could suit better.”
“I have seen a lot of names and I like them all. I don’t want to ruin anybody’s chances this morning by singling him or her out,” he said. “You know, there is a lot of talent in the Republican Party.”
Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott