Is Fla. Sen. Rubio on GOP contenders' VP shortlists?

WINGATE, N.C. — A Republican touted as a potential vice-presidential candidate laid out an expansive vision of American foreign policy on Tuesday, advocating U.S. engagement, lauding "freedom fighters" and criticizing President Barack Obama.

Marco Rubio of Florida has been a U.S. senator for less than 10 months. But the son of Cuban immigrants from a swing state has found himself on the short list of potential vice presidential nominees by presidential candidate Mitt Romney and others.

Rubio, 40, dismissed such talk on Tuesday.

"We're a long way from that," he told a reporter after a speech at Wingate University. "... I'm not going to be the vice presidential nominee."

But in recent weeks, Rubio has raised his profile and perhaps his prospects with a series of policy speeches, his first outside Florida or Washington. He was at Wingate at the invitation of the Jesse Helms Center.

Rubio called North Carolina's late senator "an unswerving champion of freedom fighters, from Alexander Solzhenitsyn to the Nicaraguan Contras."

"If we refuse to play our rightful role and shrink from the world, America and the entire world will pay a terrible price," Rubio said. "The world counts on America. ... We can choose to ignore global problems, but global problems will not ignore us."

He applauded this year's Arab uprisings, and said the U.S. should encourage democratic movements in the Mideast, even in countries that might be U.S. allies.

Criticizing leaders of Syria and Libya, he said "even in countries such as Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, we simply do not have the luxury of endorsing the status quo."

"Instead of tying our fate to discredited dictators, we would be better advised to build constructive alternatives," he said.

He criticized what he called Obama's failed leadership in the Middle East and elsewhere.

"The Obama administration's strategy of trying to appease Islamist extremists like Iran, and turning our back on Israel, will only embolden our common enemies and weaken the prospects for peace - and for democracy itself," he said.

Rubio said it's only a matter of time before his parents' native Cuba joins "the honor roll of free countries."

To some, Rubio's foreign policy views aren't surprising.

"Given that he's a senator from Florida and given his view on Cuba, he would be more interventionist and more internationalist," said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. "The question is, how internationalist? And we'll explore that in time, particularly if he becomes the vice presidential nominee."

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