Crist's Dilemma

The Florida governor wants to distance himself from President Obama. But that may be a tall order.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) has had a tough time distancing himself from President Barack Obama, avoiding the president when he visited the state last week, and even telling reporters he didn't know Obama was going to be there.

Wednesday, he told CNN that he never endorsed the $787 stimulus package, which he publicly supported during its journey through Congress. It's become somewhat of an albatross for him: his primary opponent in Florida's Senate race, the conservative Marco Rubio, has called attention it repeatedly.

Yesterday, Rubio launched a fundraising site that's built entirely on a Crist/Obama association, at In other words, the race is becoming almost exclusively, from Rubio's vantage point, about Crist's centrism, his support for the stimulus, and associating Crist with the White House/Democratic Party agenda through gigantic images of Crist physically close to Obama--much like Democrats did, with some success, to John McCain with that photo of him hugging Bush.

Just to be clear on Crist's support for the stimulus, here's Crist at a pro-stimulus rally with Obama in Ft. Myers, Florida on February 10, the day the Senate passed a version of the bill (video here):

"Our budget is in balance here in Florida. We have some people that have worked very hard in our Florida Senate and our Florida House to make that possible. In fact we've had to cut about $7 billion over the past two years, and we haven't raised taxes and we're still in balance, but, to be candid, it's getting harder every day. It's getting harder every day, and we know that it's important that we pass this stimulus package. It is important that we do so to help education, to help our infrastructure, and to help health care for those who need it the most--the most vulnerable among us. And let me finish by saying, Mr. President, we need to do it in a bipartisan way. This issue, of helping our country, is about helping our country. This is not about partisan politics, this is about rising above that, helping America, and reigniting our economy."

Crist told CNN's Wolf Blitzer: "I didn't endorse it. I didn't even have a vote on the darned thing," but that "I understood that it was going to pass and I wanted to be able to utilize it for the benefit of my fellow Floridians."

Which makes sense. As the White House pushed the stimulus through Congress, it caused some fits for GOP governors: accept the funding, and betray fiscal conservatism; resist the funding, and deprive their state of free money and jobs. Most chose the pragmatic, money-receiving path, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford was the odd man out in fighting stimulus funds to the bitter end.

So Crist's logic makes sense...but saying "I didn't endorse it" might be a tricky one to explain. And we can be sure Rubio will try to make him explain it.