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Marco Rubio veepstakes leaks divide Romney World, helps Barack Obama, irks conservatives

**Update: Romney says Rubio is being vetted

President Barack Obama owes a debt of gratitude to the Republican leakers who have told ABC and now the Washington Post that Sen. Marco Rubio isn't being vetted to be a running mate for Republican Mitt Romney. With just a few whispers, the stories have:

1) poured cold water on Rubio's warm-and-fuzzy national tour to plug his autobiography, An American Son, which came out today.

2) indicates there's a goodly amount of internal Romney World discord and suspicion over Rubio's high profile as of late.

3) caused hand-wringing among Republicans who fret that Romney won't pick a candidate who fires up the base.

4) threw the Romney campaign off message as reporters began calling with the is-it-true? line of questioning about Rubio.

5) suggests Romney is a weak leader who can be boxed in by alleged supporters (assuming this didn't come from him) because leaks like this only hurt his campaign (albeit for a day or two, for now).

The damage was summed up best in this Florida Democratic Party email headline: "Rubio fails preliminary review in Veepstakes." The email began: According the today’s Washington Post article on GOP Veepstakes, it only took the Romney camp a “preliminary review” to determine Marco Rubio would fail to pass vetting. Ouch, that’s going to leave a mark.

Indeed. So is the "outside Romney adviser" who said Rubio isn't ready to be president tomorrow.

It bears repeating: Ouch.

So is Rubio in or out? Who knows?

Stuart Stevens should. He's a top Romney adviser. But even he said he has no idea who is being vetted, who isn't and who will be picked. Suspicions are so high that some suspected Stevens was the original leaker. After all, Stevens is a buddy of another shortlister, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, and had initially worked on Gov. Charlie Crist's senate 2010 campaign that bashed Rubio.

Stevens said he respects Rubio and he doesn't know anything about the vetting process for vice president And if he were involved, he wouldn't say anything.

"This (vetting) process is being done by a small group of people and they're not talking," Stevens said. "Anyone who says doesn't know. And anyone who knows isn't saying."

Still, the campaign isn't saying anything officially. And that's a killer. It suggests the stories about Rubio are true.

Considering that Gov. Jeb Bush and other top Republicans have pushed for Rubio, he remains a top pick. And just because he hasn't been vetted yet or sent a questionnaire doesn't mean he won't be. He'll probably get a token questionnaire sent at this point -- which would probably irk Rubio supporters all the more. They're already angry. And they're getting angrier as the Romney campaign says less and less.

But the reports about Rubio not being on the list aren't phony. Sure, the sources aren't from inside he war room. But the chances are slim that these reporters relied on bad and ignorant sources. So it seems increasingly likely that Rubio probably won't make the cut. The best indication of why Rubio won't be picked was given by the so-called "Mouth of Romney," blogger Jennifer Rubin, who noted today:

"In early April I wrote that the most likely VP picks were Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. I suggested then that readiness to be president, smarts coupled with seasoning and some personal chemistry with Romney would be key. Of Sen. Marco Rubio I wrote, “Even if he wanted the spot, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would be lower on the list than a candidate who embodies Romney’s preference for experience.”

Indeed. Rubio also endorsed Romney late (and endorsed Mike Huckabee in 2008) and, unlike Romney, he's a career politician. Albeit, Romney would probably be a career politician if he had a better winning record. And perhaps he'd have a better winning record if his supporters didn't leak stories to his detriment.