By Fritz Wenzel

WASHINGTON – When it comes to the personal appeal of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, there are few new faces on the national political scene with better skills. A Hispanic with a quick wit and a faster smile, he is a happy warrior who refuses to accept the liberal premise that government is the answer to all questions.

So, naturally, some Republicans have already put him on the short list for vice president in the 2012 election. Given the already large and growing political influence of Florida in presidential politics, this makes sense. But it turns out he has an eligibility problem not unlike that of Barack Obama.

The latest WND/Wenzel poll shows that Americans harbor serious doubts about Rubio on the ticket, which could shake GOP insiders to their core. Just 45 percent said they believe that, under the U.S. Constitution, a child born to parents who are not U.S. citizens is a natural born citizen of the United States. Such is the situation with Rubio. Another 43 percent said they believe someone in his situation is clearly not qualified for this reason, while 12 percent said they were unsure on the question.

Asked specifically whether they would vote for any candidate for president who was not constitutionally eligible to serve, just 15 percent said they would go ahead and vote for such candidate, presumably because other factors would weigh more heavily in their minds. Another 64 percent said they could not vote for such a candidate, while 21 percent said they were unsure on the question. What this shows is that, should Rubio be elevated to the Republican ticket, he could actually be a drag rather than the asset most pundits perceived him to be. In other words, for all of his political appeal and skills, choosing Rubio to join the ticket could be political suicide.

Read about the newest attack on a former military doctor who was denied verification of Obama’s eligibility, as well as the latest developments in the Georgia hearing on Obama’s status as a “natural born citizen.”

The new controversy over Rubio’s eligibility hit critical mass a week ago when WND Editor Joseph Farah dropped the bombshell observation that the Florida senator was not eligible to be vice president on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity” during a segment of Florida primary election analysis.

“I am surprised so few in Washington, the Republican political establishment and the pundit class have ever considered this issue before,” said Farah. “When I made that comment, it was as if I suggested Rubio had two heads. His life story is well-known. How could a question of constitutional eligibility have evaded all these folks up until now – especially after what the nation went through with Barack Obama?”

Farah suggested that despite Rubio’s positive attributes, his presence on the ticket would cost Republicans 10 percent of their base because of the eligibility issue. This survey suggests his estimate was very conservative.

Considering this problem with Rubio’s eligibility, voters nationwide were split on whether he would be a help or a harm to the GOP ticket. While 46 percent of Republicans said he would be a help to the GOP ticket, 41 percent said he would be harmful. Certainly, his presence on the ticket would be a substantial negative for those voters who oppose Barack Obama because of his apparent ineligibility to serve. For these voters, this would be a discouraging case of two wrongs definitely not making a right. Just because a Democrat might have gotten away with serving despite constitutional prohibitions doesn’t mean Republicans should follow suit.

Here’s the political problem facing Republicans. Their work in this year’s campaign is to draw contrasts with Obama, the sharper the better. As economic conditions improve, albeit marginally, Republicans are losing the distinction between their expertise on the issue and his substantial bungling effort to establish a command and control economy. Should Romney be the nominee, Republicans will have lost all distinction on the question of government-mandated health care, a powerful motivator for conservative voters in the 2010 midterm elections that saw the GOP take control of the House of Representatives. They have, with the exception of Ron Paul, all but shied away from talking about the massive government deficits that are sure to drown the next two American generations.

So, what is left is Obama’s personality and eligibility to serve – which is something over which he has no control should an opponent want to make an issue of it. By naming Rubio to the ticket as vice president, this obvious Republican advantage is erased, and the WND/Wenzel poll shows that many American voters understand this fact.

The poll was conducted exclusively for WND by the public-opinion research and media consulting company Wenzel Strategies.  The results are from its research by telephone on Feb. 1-3, 2012. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.44 percentage points.

See detailed results of survey questions:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has been named as a possible vice presidential candidate for the Republican ticket this year. His parents were not U.S. citizens at the time of his birth, which many consider the determining point for “natural born citizenship” and constitutional eligibility for the presidency or vice presidency. Do you believe someone born of non-U.S. citizen parents is a “natural born citizen”?

Knowing what I just mentioned about the background of Marco Rubio’s parents, do you believe Marco Rubio fits the definition of a “natural born citizen”?

Would you vote for a presidential ticket that included someone who you considered to be constitutionally ineligible to serve?

All things considered, do you believe that having Marco Rubio as a running mate on the Republican presidential ticket would help or hurt the eventual Republican presidential nominee?

Disclosure: Fritz Wenzel is the official pollster for candidate Ron Paul.

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