Fla. Gov. Crist is not sorry he backed stimulus

Published: Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 3:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 3:39 p.m.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Gov. Charlie Crist was offering no apologies Saturday for standing with President Barack Obama and supporting the federal stimulus package — an event that has haunted him as he seeks a U.S. Senate seat.

The image of the governor hugging Obama at a Fort Myers rally last February in support of the $787 billion stimulus has lingered as former House Speaker Marco Rubio becomes a stronger than expected challenger in the Republican primary.

But Crist emphatically told GOP activists gathered for the state party's annual meeting that he has no regrets because the stimulus saved jobs, including those of 20,000 Florida teachers.

"Some people criticize me for going down to Fort Myers, being nice to the president of the United States of America. I do not apologize for it and I never will," Crist said.

That's exactly what Crist should have said all along instead of backing away from the Obama appearance like he did two months ago, some party activists said. In a November interview on CNN, Crist was asked if he regretted endorsing the stimulus package. He answered, "I didn't endorse it. I didn't even have a vote on the darned thing."

"The problem with what Gov. Crist has done in the Barack Obama thing, is he just didn't stand up to it in the beginning," said Brevard County GOP chairman Jason Steele. "If he would have stood up to it in the beginning and said 'This is why I did it' instead of being a little nervous about why he did it and what he was trying to accomplish, he would be better off."

Crist's speech was praised by many in the room, but Rubio said Republican voters do not want a senator who would support a spending package like the one that passed nearly a year go.

"The issue is not being nice to the president," Rubio said. "At a time when America had a decision to make about how to stimulate its economy and there were Republicans in Washington working hard to offer an alternative, he stood up and supported Barack Obama and cut the legs out from underneath those Republicans."

Crist clearly knows Republicans are upset about the Obama appearance.

"I know it's on your mind, so I might as well just put it out there," Crist said. "I understand it's not the kind of thing you want to do every year, but these are historic times."

He also wanted to make it clear that backing Obama on one issue doesn't mean he supports him on everything.

"I don't agree with the guy on hardly anything he does," Crist said. "I mean, what they're doing with health care right now is unbelievable."

Crist criticized Obama for not working with Republicans on the health care overhaul, and reminded the crowd that the president promised when he took office that he would lead in a bipartisan manner.

"Oh really? Well, something happened between last year and now. The door's been shut. That's not the American way," Crist said.

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