Even if he doesn't get tapped as Mitt Romney's running mate, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is well-positioned to make his mark on the race. His push for an alternate Dream Act, legalizing the children of some illegal immigrants, is getting serious consideration from immigrant advocates, including traditional Democratic allies. According to the Washington Post's Peter Wallsten, it's putting the White House on the defensive over whether to oppose a measure that could end up being embraced by many in the Hispanic community.
For Obama, the calculus is complicated: The re-election campaign needs to overwhelmingly win the Hispanic vote, and portraying Republicans as insensitive to immigrants' needs is a key part of their strategy. If they showed any support for Rubio's efforts, it could undermine that game plan. But if they urge Latino groups and allies in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus not to work with Rubio, it could give the perception that they're more concerned about immigration politics than policy. It's a stereotype they've already been facing among Hispanic leaders, who have been disenchanted with the administration's lack of progress on immigration reform. Despite the hype that the GOP moved to the hard right in the primary, immigration was the main issue where Romney himself did so, sounding a hard conservative line to position himself to the right of Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. If there was one issue where he would "flip-flop" back to the center, it's likely to be immigration.
Now Rubio is offering both Romney and the GOP a second chance to court Hispanic voters, and putting the White House in a tough spot. The freshman senator may not become Romney's running mate, but he could be giving him a bigger political gift with his immigration advocacy.