The Florida primary is long over, but the senator's endorsement gives Romney much-needed Tea Party and conservative credibility.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican superstar expected to top the vice presidential shortlist, on Wednesday said Mitt Romney has "earned'' the Republican nomination for president and called a potential floor fight at the convention a "recipe for disaster."
In an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Rubio didn't name Romney rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich but said it was clear to him they would not be able to win enough delegates to lock down the nomination before the Republican convention.
"I think we're at a stage now where at least two of the candidates have openly admitted that the only way they're going to be able to win the nomination is to have a floor fight in Tampa in August. I don't think there's anything good about that,'' he said. He added, "It's increasingly clear that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee.''
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Pressed by Hannity whether he was in fact offering his endorsement, Rubio said yes. But he offered something even better: The rising figure in the conservative and tea party movements vouched for Romney's conservative credentials.
"I have zero doubt in my mind of two things,'' Rubio said. "No. 1 that Mitt Romney will govern as a conservative, and No. 2, that he will be head and shoulders better than the guy who is in the White House right now.''
Expect to see those words sooner rather than later in a television ad.
Rubio has said he had no plans to endorse a candidate almost as firmly as he has insisted he won't be a vice presidential contender. He repeated that Wednesday night saying, "That's not what I intend to be, that's not what I want to be, and that's not what's going to happen.''
Rubio did not back Romney's 2008 presidential bid; the onetime speaker of the Florida House endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Romney subsequently campaigned on Rubio's behalf in Florida when he was running for the U.S. Senate against then-Gov. Charlie Crist.
In the interview Wednesday night, Rubio did not address the biggest knock on Romney -- that he spearheaded a health care overhaul as governor of Massachusetts that, like President Obama's plan before the Supreme Court this week, requires everyone to buy insurance. But Rubio said Romney's record as a governor and a successful businessman offered a "stark contrast'' with the president.
Such praise from the golden boy of the Republican Party could prove as valuable as a super PAC.