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Crist now says he might join Obama in Tampa

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist, who has been taking a steady pounding for his "man hug" with President Barack Obama in February, now says he might be with the president again Thursday in Tampa.

"If we can work it out logistically, I'll be with him," Crist said Tuesday.

Asked about the possibility of more backlash from Republicans who don't like the president or his policies, Crist said: "That's not my concern. My concern is fighting for jobs for the people of Florida, and that's my first and foremost duty, and I realize that."

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are hosting a town hall at the University of Tampa, where the president is expected to deliver the much-anticipated news that Florida is getting federal stimulus money for high-speed rail projects. That's money that state officials say will create thousands of new jobs and news any governor would want to celebrate immediately.

But for Crist, locked in a tight battle with Marco Rubio for the Republican Senate nomination, sharing a stage with the Democratic president is not without risk.

The first time Obama paid a visit to Florida as president was in Fort Myers in February. Crist welcomed him with open arms and endorsed the $787 billion federal stimulus package. He has been paying a political price ever since.

For the president's second appearance, at a Navy base in Jacksonville in October, Crist said he wasn't aware of the visit, even though e-mail records showed his office was alerted by the White House.

By coincidence, Crist will be in Tampa on Thursday at the same time as the president, attending a meeting of the board of governors at the University of South Florida, about a dozen miles from the University of Tampa.

A White House e-mail sent Tuesday afternoon to the Governor's Office checked on Crist's availability. "Any word on whether governor will be able to join? We are needing to lock down the preparations," the message said.

Crist said he would like to cajole the president on Florida's application for federal education stimulus funds under the Race to the Top program. "It would be nice to be able to lobby him," Crist said.

Times staff writer Alex Leary in Washington contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Crist now says he might join Obama in Tampa 01/26/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 8:36pm]
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