TAMPA — When Gov. Charlie Crist, who's running for the U.S. Senate, arrived at the Hillsborough County Republican Party's Reagan Day Dinner on Friday, about two dozen people waving campaign signs greeted him.
But they weren't Crist supporters.
They were backers of Marco Rubio, who is challenging Crist in the 2010 Republican primary.
Crist, a guest speaker at the event, was undaunted.
He got out of his car, and shook hands with his opponent's backers.
"Thanks for being involved," he told them. "I appreciate you."
And then he zipped into a VIP reception at the Pepin's Hospitality Centre.
"That's typical Charlie," said Sam Rashid, who helped organize the show of support for Rubio. "He's a populist governor. But this Senate seat is about more than about populism. It's about running the country. And that's where he's a disaster."
Crist has been considered a favorite in the contest, but the more conservative Rubio has been gaining steam, with his campaign reporting this week that he took in $1 million in the last fundraising quarter.
Rubio supporter Eric Rathburn said he planned to wipe off the sweat from the early evening heat, change his clothes, and go to the dinner.
"I support the party," he said. "It's an honor to have a sitting governor here."
Crist opened his remarks by saying, "We are a family. We truly are a family."
Ronald Reagan understood that, he said, and often used the so-called 11th commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican."
He went on to talk about the importance of the GOP principles of lower taxes, small government and free enterprise. Under his watch as governor, he said, the state has cut taxes by $25 billion and spending by $7 billion.
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.