WASHINGTON - Florida Sen. Marco Rubio wasn't picked to be Mitt Romney's running mate, but he will get a pretty nice consolation prize: a prime-time speaking slot at the GOP convention in Tampa next Thursday.
Rubio will speak right before Romney addresses the convention to accept the Republican nomination for president. The freshman senator from West Miami is expected to talk about why voters should support Romney in his quest to replace Democrat Barack Obama as president.
"Millions of Americans know Mitt Romney as a public man who helped build nationally known businesses like Staples and Sports Authority, balanced the budget in Massachusetts without tax hikes and rescued the scandal-ridden 2002 Winter Olympics," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement announcing the lineup of speakers.
Convention CEO William Harris added, "Thursday's program will introduce America to the Mitt Romney his family and close friends know."
Rubio met Romney in 2007 when the former Massachusetts governor was first running for president and came to Florida, Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said. At the time Rubio was a state lawmaker.
During the past few months, Rubio often was mentioned as a possible running mate for Romney because he represents a critical swing state and is an articulate voice for the nation's fastest-growing minority group. But observers said his lack of seasoning on the national stage (he's been a senator less than two years) probably helped convince Romney to look elsewhere.
Romney eventually chose Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, who will address the convention Wednesday.
A new poll shows that choosing Ryan has helped Romney somewhat in Florida.
Obama led Romney 49 percent to 46 percent in a survey of 1,241 likely Florida voters conducted Aug. 15- Aug. 21. The Quinnipiac University/ CBS News/New York Times Swing State Poll released Thursday had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. On Aug. 1, before Ryan was chosen, Obama led 51 percent to 45 percent in Florida, according to the same poll.
Rubio's not the only Floridian speaking Thursday. Rep. Connie Mack IV, R-Fort Myers, will be the first speaker of the night. He was an early and ardent supporter of Romney during the state's pivotal presidential primary in January that helped propel Romney to the nomination.
Mack is trying to unseat Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Orlando. Nelson is leading Mack 50 percent to 41 percent, according to the same Quinnipiac University/ CBS News/New York Times poll.
Other speakers scheduled to speak Thursday include Bob White, Romney's campaign chairman, and two former Massachusetts officials - Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey and Workforce Secretary Jane Edmonds.
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