Under attack on television and losing traction in the U.S. Senate race, Gov. Charlie Crist lashed out Thursday at front-runner Marco Rubio for his spending with a Republican Party credit card and for trying to stuff pork into the state budget.
Rubio periodically used his party-issued American Express card to pick up personal expenses, though he says he later covered them. The former House speaker paid the party back about $2,400 earlier this year after he said he mistakenly charged several flights to Tallahassee while also getting reimbursed by taxpayers.
"To say that you're Mr. Fiscal Conservative and have all those kind of financial issues is stunning to me," Crist, a former Republican running without party affiliation, told the Miami Herald editorial board. "It borders on outright hypocrisy."
Rubio has denied any wrongdoing, and party officials say a top-to-bottom audit — expected to be released Friday — did not raise any red flags about their much-ballyhooed nominee.
Crist's aggressive tone comes as the latest polls show Rubio with a double-digit lead and the antitax Club for Growth began an TV advertising campaign on his behalf. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is also airing about $1 million in anti-Crist ads.
"Career politician Charlie Crist will say anything," says the Club for Growth spot, which bashes Crist for denying that he championed President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan and flip-flopping on offshore oil drilling.
The ads, along with a scrappy campaign by Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek, may help Rubio make up for Crist's larger campaign account. Meek and Rubio are expected to pile on their nonpartisan rival at the first three-way debate, which Univision will air at 11 p.m. today.
"When the polls show voters are rejecting his say-and-do-anything-to-win mantra, Charlie Crist gets desperate and lashes out against his opponents," said Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos.
In the meeting at the Miami Herald, Crist was asked if he would swear off negative attacks.
"I'm not going to promise that I'm not going to be accurate," he said. "I'm going to tell the truth. … There will be no personal attacks, but when it comes to spending or different issues, we'll get into soon, I'm sure, I'm going to tell people where my opponents are."
Crist said Rubio was "too doctrinaire" for wanting to expand offshore oil drilling and overturn the Roe vs. Wade court decision legalizing abortion. He also pointed to the pork Rubio put in the state budget as House speaker.
In 2007, Crist vetoed about $50 million in budget perks targeted for Rubio's home county of Miami-Dade, including $800,000 for artificial turf where he played flag football.
"I had to veto a lot of the things one of my opponents put in the budget in order to save you money," Crist said. "I cut it. It was garbage. Junk."
Burgos from the Rubio campaign responded: "He apparently forgot that Marco's House budgets were smaller than Crist's budgets, which contained hundreds of thousands for a personal video crew."
Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.