Obama Talks Afghanistan, Crist Avoids Presidential Spotlight
President Obama began his Florida tour Monday with a speech to naval aviators at the Naval Air Station-Jacksonville, telling them that he was considering their needs as he made troop decisions in Afghanistan.
Obama gave no indication of whether or not he would fulfill General Stanley McCrystal’s request of 40,000 additional troops completely or in part, but he said the impact on armed personnel like the navy members stationed in Jacksonville weighed heavily on the decision.
“To make sure you’re not bearing the burden of our security alone, we’re enlisting all elements of our national power—diplomacy, development and a positive vision of American leadership in the world,” the president said in prepared remarks. “And while I will never hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests, I also promise you this—and this is very important as we consider our next steps in Afghanistan: I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way. I won’t risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it is necessary, we will back you up. Because you deserve the strategy, the clear mission, the defined goals and the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That’s the promise I make to you.”
Opponents have chastised Obama for not making the troop decision more quickly, including pointed criticism from former Vice President Dick Cheney that he was "dithering."
Obama then headed to South Florida Monday evening for a Democratic fundraiser at Fountainebleau Miami Beach hotel and to tour a Florida Power & Light solar energy plant in Arcadia Tuesday.
"We are closer than we have ever been to passing healthcare reform,'' Obama told Democrats at the fundraiser. "It's not going to get easier from here on in. It's going to get harder.''
But Governor Charlie Crist was no where to be seen. The Governor remained in Tallahassee for a Cabinet meeting and made little reference to Obama.
"I don't even know what day he's coming," Crist told a reporter last week when asked about the President's visit.
That's a big change from February, when the governor famously (or infamously) greeted Obama with a hug during the new President's first official visit to Florida.
Crist's chief rival for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, former House Speaker Marco Rubio, isn't missing an opportunity to remind voters about the hug. Rubio has repeatedly attacked Crist for support of the Federal bailout and stimulus programs, and it seems to be helping cut down on Crist's lead.
“It’s clear President Obama’s visit has made Governor Crist excruciatingly uncomfortable. For someone who famously never forgets a name and face, Governor Crist has picked a convenient time to forget the leader of the free world has been in his state," said Rubio campaign spokesman Alex Burgos. "Charlie Crist’s absence from the president’s itinerary marks a remarkable turnaround for someone who has enthusiastically embraced the president and his runaway spending policies.”
For his part, Crist says he doesn't regret welcoming the President back in February, despite the political damage it might have done to his Senate campaign.
"I was happy and delighted to do so. I'm a civil guy. The president of the United States is the president of the United States," Crist said. "Especially when it's the first visit to Florida and I'm invited to be there. I have that kind of respect in my soul."
Recent polls are showing Rubio trailing by about 15%, marking a major improvement for the underdog from polls taken earlier in the year. Rubio's fundraising has also started to ramp up, though he still faces a significant disadvantage in cash on hand.