Florida Guv Backs McCain

By Jacqueline Klingebiel

Jan 26, 2008 8:08pm

ABC News’ Karen Travers and Teddy Davis Report: With only three days to go until Florida’s Jan. 29 primary, Republican John McCain won the backing of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

Crist delivered his endorsement Saturday night at the Lincoln Day Dinner in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he appeared alongside McCain.

Calling McCain a "true American hero," Crist said that he has thought long and hard about who would make the best president.

"As you know, we have a very important election coming up in Florida," said Crist. "And the man who stands next to me is really a true American hero."

"I don’t think anybody would do better than the man standing next to me," Crist said of McCain. "That’s an endorsement."

If Florida’s popular governor is able to lift McCain to a win in the Sunshine State, it could mean the end of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s White House bid and firmly establish McCain as the G.O.P.’s frontrunner going into Feb. 5 when more than 20 states vote.

Crist’s affinity for McCain was apparent on the day before his 2006 election as governor.

Crist, who was the state’s attorney general at the time, was scheduled to appear at a rally with Bush in Pensacola, Fla. But he cancelled and went to an event with McCain in Jacksonville around the same time.

The White House was not pleased about Crist’s decision to campaign with McCain instead of the president.

Asked that day what the Crist cancellation meant for Bush, Karl Rove said "Let’s see how many people show up in Palm Beach on 24 hours notice versus 8 or 9,000 people in Pensacola." Rove also said to ask Crist’s people why they cancelled.

Crist’s people cited scheduling and other Florida Republicans said he had no reason to go to the GOP heavy panhandle area when he needed to pick up votes in other areas of the state.

UPDATE 8:37pm ET: Crist said he made his decision to endorse McCain this afternoon. When asked when he found out, McCain said "very late," with a smile.

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