Florida GOP Candidate Snubs Bush

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, right, hugs his brother, President Bush, left, after introducing him at a campaign rally at Pensacola Civic Center in Pensacola, Fla., Monday, Nov. 6, 2006.
AP
As the midterm election drew close to the finish line Monday, President Bush jetted to a conservative corner of Florida's panhandle. He was met with cheers and an enthusiastic crowd, but also got a big snub.

To the White House's embarrassment and irritation, Republican Charlie Crist, whom Mr. Bush came to help in his bid to succeed the president's brother as governor, decided at the last minute to skip the chance to be by the president's side. Crist said he needed to campaign elsewhere in the state, CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller reports.

President Bush's aides are now battling the perception he is doing his party as much harm as good and was unwanted in many districts.

The White House did not hide its irritation at Crist for ducking the president, though Mr. Bush still urged Republicans to vote for Crist.

Crist's campaign said it was not a case of Crist distancing himself from Mr. Bush, but White House political chief Karl Rove took something of a swipe, saying he wanted to see how many people turned out for Crist in Palm Beach versus the 9,000 supporters expected at the Bush rally.

The White House already had distributed schedules saying Crist would introduce the president at the rally.

Crist's opponent, Democratic Rep. Jim Davis, seized on the news.

"Now that the president is so unpopular, Charlie refuses to stand side by side with him," Davis said. "It says when the going gets tough, Charlie won't stand up."

Crist's chief of staff, George LeMieux, said the candidate already has strong support in the heavily Republican Pensacola area and thought his time would be better spent campaigning elsewhere. LeMieux said the decision had nothing to do with the president's job approval ratings.

Outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush attended the Pensacola event in Crist's place. Rep. Katherine Harris, who is mounting a lukewarm challenge to Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, was also with the president. Before the September primary, Republican leaders failed to support Harris.

Mr. Bush is using the last day of his 10-state campaign swing to flush out GOP and swing voters needed to keep Republicans sitting in the governor's offices of Arkansas and Texas as well.

It is his fifth consecutive day of campaigning, traveling to states where his advisers believe he can best help fend off the Democratic threat to take over Congress and end up with a majority of governorships for the first time in 12 years.

After Florida, Mr. Bush is heading to Arkansas where the race for governor pits Democratic Attorney General Mike Beebe against Republican Asa Hutchinson, a former congressman and federal Homeland Security official.

The Beebe-Hutchinson faceoff for the open governership already is the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in state history. Overall, Beebe, who is leading in the polls, has raised $6.3 million and spent $5.7 million in his bid for governor. Hutchinson, a former congressman, has raised nearly $3.3 million and spent about $3.1 million.

Before returning to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Mr. Bush is speaking at a rally in Dallas for Gov. Rick Perry, who is leading the polls in his re-election bid.

On Election Day, Mr. Bush plans to vote in Crawford and then fly back to Washington to wait for returns from the voting.