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(The Wall Street Journal) - Florida`s popular Sen. Marco Rubio is trapped in a hot political love triangle.
There is his longtime political dalliance with Newt Gingrich, with whom he has swapped emails and exchanged ideas for years. Then there is Mitt Romney, one of the first prominent figures to endorse Rubio in his 2010 Senate campaign before it was fashionable -- and before Gingrich did.
The state`s primary on Tuesday will be a critical point in the battle for the Republican nomination, and Rubio could influence the outcome if he wanted to. He swept into power on the back of Tea Party support and has emerged as a favorite of conservatives.
The Republican senator has decided to remain neutral, but that does not mean he is not paying close attention to the race. He has doled out praise to both men and stepped in when he thought the campaigns were out of line, all while trying to avoid a misstep of his own that would put him on the wrong side of the eventual nominee or squander his credibility.
Speaking about Romney, Rubio is effusive. "He came to Florida," he said in an interview. "He campaigned for me. He did events for me. And I`m very grateful for that."
When the conversation turned to Gingrich, Rubio noted how in 2006, when he was in Florida`s House, the former speaker of the US House wrote a glowing commentary for his book, "100 Innovative Ideas for Florida`s Future," and flew to Orlando to headline a conference Rubio organized. "We`ve interacted a lot over the years," said Rubio. "So I`m a big fan of his as well."
Lurking in the background are Rubio`s own ambitions for higher office. Both Republican presidential contenders have said they would want Rubio in their administrations, and during Thursday`s GOP debate Gingrich practically said he would make Rubio his running mate. The senator has rejected the suggestion that he might be a vice-presidential candidate.
For months, Romney and Gingrich have courted Rubio`s endorsement. "Marco has certainly had conversations with both of them," said Todd Harris, a top Rubio adviser. "But the nature of those conversations is private."
Gingrich has so aggressively tied himself to Rubio that the senator has had to rein him in. At Florida campaign stops, Gingrich has repeatedly tried to challenge Romney`s conservatism by pointing out that Romney has hired staff who used to work for former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a pariah among conservatives since he left the Republican Party to challenge Rubio in 2010 as an independent. Rubio publicly came to Romney`s defense.
He has also scolded Gingrich in recent days over his campaign ad labeling Romney "anti-immigrant," telling the Miami Herald it was "inaccurate, inflammatory, and doesn`t belong in this campaign." Gingrich pulled the ad off the air.
Rubio said the candidates understand his position.
"These are pragmatic political veterans. They`ve been where I`m at today," he said. "And I look forward to working really hard for our nominee, whoever that is."
Read more: The Wall Street Journal
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