Florida Sen. Marco Rubio emerged as the clear first choice of conservative activists as a running mate for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney this fall, beating out his nearest rival by a two-to-one margin according to a Washington Times-sponsored poll of more than 500 attendees of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) gathering in Chicago Friday.
The freshman Florida lawmaker received 30.4 percent of the first-place votes from CPAC delegates, more than twice the number for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, named by 14.2 percent of the respondents. In third place among the 23 possible vice presidential candidates named in the poll was House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.
The Washington Times/CPAC Straw Poll was co-sponsored by The Washington Times and conducted by the firm of Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who both have been mentioned prominently as potential Romney running mates, found little support in Chicago, both receiving less than 2 percent of the vote from CPAC activists. Mr. McDonnell received even fewer votes in the poll than Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, this week’s hero of the party following his strong win in Tuesday’s union-backed recall election.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Mr. Romney’s top rival in the primary who addressed the CPAC gathering along with Mr. Christie and Mr. McDonnell Friday, got 24 votes, or 4.6 percent of the 520 tallied.
Delegates at the CPAC gathering, organized by the American Conservative Union, were more evenly divided on which quality was the most important to them in picking a vice presidential nominee. Some 32.1 percent said Mr. Romney should select a running mate who best “reaches out to more conservative elements in the [Republican] Party and conservative movement,” while 27.3 percent said the first priority should be a running mate who “can best complement Romney in helping govern our country.”
Just under a fifth of those polled — 19.8 percent — said Mr. Romney should run with a candidate who “has broad national political appeal, especially with minorities, Democrats and independents.”
And while Mr. Rubio, a Cuban-American from the key electoral state of Florida, emerged as the conservatives’ top choice, just 4 percent of those polled at CPAC said their first priority was for Mr. Romney to pick a candidate “who helps win a key state.”
Mr. Rubio, a tea party-backed favorite and a rising star in the party following his 2010 primary win over then-GOP Gov. Charlie Crist, has not categorically ruled out a vice presidential run, but has said repeatedly that he does not expect to be chosen and wants to build his record in the Senate. But he has campaigned with Mr. Romney and recently released English- and Spanish-language statements in support of the former Massachusetts governor.
For his part, Mr. Romney has begun working in references to the 41-year-old Florida senator in his stump speech, drawing sustained cheers at Republican rallies.