Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) has taken a lot of heat from the right about his embrace of Obama’s stimulus package, fueling a right-wing challenge from former state Speaker Marco Rubio’s (R) in his senatorial campaign.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) came to Crist’s defense yesterday, telling the St. Petersburg Times that, while Rubio is “mounting a serious threat,” he still thinks Crist “will win.” Asked if Crist’s support for the stimulus was a political mistake, McCain dodged the question, saying, “I don’t know.” McCain explained, “I haven’t kept up enough to really know about that. I can’t judge other people.”
But McCain had a much clearer opinion on the stimulus just two weeks ago when he appeared on Don Imus’ radio program:
IMUS: Did you support that bill?
MCCAIN: Hell no.
IMUS: I don’t think you have to swear at me Senator when I’m just asking a…
MCCAIN: I’m not swearing at you. I’m swearing I would’ve had to have been smoking something pretty strong to have voted for that outrageous use of taxpayers’ dollars.
It seems unlikely that McCain wouldn’t “really know about” the politics surrounding Crist’s endorsement of stimulus. The governor was a key early supporter of the plan and helped pitch it at a high-profile February town hall with President Obama in Ft. Myers. Caving to right-wing attacks, Crist has since tried to walk back his support of the measure, telling CNN last month that he never “endorsed” the stimulus. His flip-flop “made headlines all over Florida” and has been, perhaps, the most important issue driving Rubio’s unlikely lead in the Senate race. As the St. Petersburg Times notes, McCain is likely ignoring the facts to defend his “pal” because McCain “won Florida [in the 2008 GOP primary] in part due to Crist’s endorsement.”
Ironically for Crist, he is distancing himself from the stimulus at the same time it is bearing fruit. Approximately 600,000 to 1.6 million jobs have been created or saved nationally through September, according to the CBO. And nearly $7 billion has flowed from the stimulus into Florida, helping to create or save approximately 29,000 jobs. (State officials put the number closer to 47,000.) Meanwhile the nation’s economy grew during the third quarter of 2009, and job losses have slowed from 652,000 in March to only 11,000 in November.