Senator Marco Rubio appeared on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace this weekend and gave viewers a clear understanding why many conservatives see him as a strong candidate to be Mitt Romney’s running mate. Rubio answered Wallace’s questions directly and forcefully, drawing sharp contrasts between Obama’s record and the Republican vision for the next four years.

Part of what makes Rubio so effective, beyond his obvious grasp of the substance of the policies being discussed, is the tone he uses to criticize the Obama administration. It’s not so much anger, though some anger might be warranted, but disappointment. So when Rubio talks about Obama’s failings on the economy, he reminds viewers of the promises Obama made – to revive the economy and restore the faith of Americans in their government – and laments the president’s inability to deliver. He did the same thing when asked for his reaction to the Obama administration’s use of the death of Osama bin Laden.

“Let me focus on this issue of bin Laden for a moment. That was a very proud day for all Americans. Our Armed Forces did a phenomenal job and the president made an important and wise decision – and he has gotten his due credit, and rightfully so, for making that decision. But now he’s taken if further. He has taken something that should unite the American people – a moment of pride for our country – and instead turned it into a weapon of political warfare. And I think that’s wrong. I really do. I think it’s wrong for the president and for the vice president to take this issue and use it for politics.”

Rubio then used his disappointment to make a larger point about Obama, one that speaks directly to the segment of the electorate who invested in their hopes in Obama and have been let down.

“And it goes back to the point I tried to make earlier: When this president ran for office in 2008, he said he was going to be different. He was going to be a post-partisan uniter, to bring Americans together. And three and a half years later, the president, quite frankly, has become just like anyone else in Washington, D.C. And in his obsessive effort to win his reelection, he has lost himself and he has lost what makes him different. And this issue of they’ve used the bin Laden raid is one example about how this administration is just like everybody else.”

It’s an argument that won’t appeal to the 30-something percent of the electorate who will vote for Obama under any circumstances and are now spending their time explaining and excusing his failures. But Obama won because he inspired millions of new voters to invest their faith in him and persuaded others to support his cause. It’s those voters who will be so important this time around – and their decisions about whether to back him again, to stay home or to support Romney, will go a long way to determining who wins the election.

Rubio spoke to them Sunday morning—and, if Mitt Romney was watching, it’s hard to believe he didn’t see the potential of having Rubio as a full-time spokesman on his behalf this fall.

That is what much of the current speculation about Rubio-as-running mate misses. It’s been largely a focus on geography and ethnicity – a steady stream of musing about his ability (or alleged inability) to move Hispanic voters to the Romney column and theorizing about whether the mere presence of his name would win Florida for Romney. The whole thing has a static quality about it as if what Rubio actually did on the ticket was somehow secondary.

It’s not. And the strongest argument for Rubio’s inclusion on the ticket, in spite of concerns about his age, relative inexperience, and a challenging friend, is how Rubio would actually perform as a candidate. The quality of his appearance on Fox News Sunday is the rule, not the exception. On the stump, he usually speaks without notes and in thirty minutes, with seemingly little effort, can transform a room of sleepy senior citizens into a raucous crowd of would-be reformers ready to put up yard signs until Election Day. Beyond that, imagine a television ad in which running mate Rubio speaks directly to the camera and tells the story of his upbringing, of his mother working as a maid and his father as a bartender so that their children might have opportunities that they did not. In Rubio’s telling, it’s both exceptional and typical – a moving tale of family sacrifice that will be familiar to so many across the country.

There are reasons that Romney might want another running mate and reasons Rubio might prefer to remain in the Senate. But if Romney decides to ask Rubio to be considered and eventually to run with him, I suspect it’ll have much less to do with Rubio’s name and his native state than it will with what Rubio would do as a running mate and vice president.

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