Crist, Rubio debate on morning TV; Crist holds firm on running as Republican

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio debated Sunday morning on Fox, where the two Senate hopefuls sparred over everything from the stimulus to the price of Rubio's haircuts.

Crist also confirmed that, despite Rubio leading the governor by double digits in the Republican Senate primary race (an average of 25.4 points in March, according to Real Clear Politics data), he would be running as a Republican and not entering the race as an independent. And if elected, he said, he would not ditch the office to run for the Oval Office in 2012.

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Crist also defended his acceptance of stimulus funds, and said as a senator he would have voted for the $787 billion package.

"I think it was the right thing to do at the time," Crist said, noting that the economy "was falling off a cliff."

"Things have started to stabilize now and they're getting better in Florida," he added.

Rubio contended that record 12.2 percent unemployment in the state showed otherwise. "If it's bad for America it couldn't possibly be good for your state," he said.

"If we had taken the speaker's approach we would have had 87,000 more unemployed," Crist countered.

Rubio, who cited his age of 39 twice during the 40-minute debate and promoted policies from the standpoint of someone "many years away from retirement age," said Crist, who famously hugged President Barack Obama last year, wouldn't "stand up to the Obama agenda." The conservative favorite accused the governor of appointing liberal judges and working "with ACORN and groups like that to give felons voting rights."

Yet Rubio sidestepped a viewer question about why he wouldn't undergo a vetting process from the Tea Party movement, saying he'd been to 15-20 Tea Parties and wasn't aware of any vetting process, adding that the movement had been "mischaracterized" as an organization by the media instead of a broad-based grass-roots movement.

"I'm proud of my association with the Tea Party folks," Rubio said.

Crist stressed that he was a "pragmatic, common-sense conservative" who considered former Sen. Connie Mack to be his mentor and looked at things through a "prism" of lower taxes, less government and less spending.