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Miami Herald

Gov. Charlie Crist insists it wasn't the chance to sample Burger King's new Bourbon Whopper and fire-grilled ribs that lured him to the company's Miami headquarters for the second time this month.

The calorie-conscious governor, forced by a plane delay to cut his Sept. 2 visit short, said he made the visit Monday "to learn from people on the front end of what's happening in the economy and how government can get out of the way and maybe help."

But a spokesman for Crist's U.S. Senate rival, Republican Marco Rubio, suggested campaign fundraisers are frequently keeping the governor in South Florida. He was slated to attend a $500-per-person reception Monday in Miami Beach.

"He has time to eat Whoppers and raise money, but he doesn't seem to have time to debate Marco Rubio on the issues," said Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos.

Monday's reception for Crist was his sixth South Florida campaign event in just three weeks. He made a public appearance either before or after each one.

"It's important to be out with the people and get around the state, and I work very hard to try to do that," Crist said.

Said Burger King chief executive John Chidsey: "We love having you in South Florida."

Crist noted that Burger King employs about 20,000 people. Roughly 700 are at the corporate offices, while the rest are mostly lower-paid restaurant employees.

"They provide an awful lot of jobs for people in Florida, and that's really the point," Crist said after meeting with top executives. "It's the economy, economy, economy, and any time I have the opportunity to visit a great Florida company that's international in scope and that really represents Miami and provides jobs for our fellow Floridians ... I'm very grateful."

Asked about his fundraiser Monday evening, Crist quipped, "Isn't that convenient?"