ABC's Ann Compton and Devin Dwyer report:
Sen. Marco Rubio today got the nod to be the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee - from the nation's largest Tea Party group, not Mitt Romney.
The Florida senator - the only Republican whom Romney has confirmed is being vetted for a #2 spot on the ticket - was the top preferred choice of thousands of surveyed Tea Party Express members, the group announced today.
"It is not a big surprise that Marco Rubio is the favorite candidate of the tea party for the vice-presidential nod. He ran as a strong fiscal conservative, and he has delivered with his record in the U.S. Senate for the last two years," said the group's president Amy Kremer in a statement. "The only surprise is that he led the other excellent candidates by such a wide margin."
Others named included Reps. Paul Ryan and Allen West, former senator Rick Santorum, and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.
Asked about the "nomination" by ABC News, Rubio gushed about his affinity for the tea party movement.
"I'm always honored by my association with the tea party," he said in an exclusive interview.
"I think the tea party has been a very positive movement for America. The tea party is not a partisan group. Somehow people think the tea party is a Republican movement. There are a lot of Republicans in the tea party, but what I've found is that the tea party movement are people that are just as upset at the Republican Party as they are the Democratic Party," he said.
"You don't run a $15, $16 trillion debt without some bipartisan cooperation… Unfortunately one party is in charge now at the White House and taking us in that wrong direction even faster than before, and they're just looking for people who will come up here and stand up to that and offer a clear alternative."