Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said Sunday he would not run as an independent if he lost the Republican Senate nomination to conservative Republican challenger Marco Rubio who has built up a commanding lead in the polls.
There had been speculation that Crist would make that move as his chances for catching Rubio appeared to slip away.
Asked by Fox News Sunday
anchor Chris Wallace if Crist was "ruling out that you will file as an independent by the April 30the deadline," Crist said, "That's right. I'm running as a Republican." Asked if he would support the winner of the GOP primary, Crist said, "Of course I will. Of course I will."
"You are saying you are going to run in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate," Wallace persisted. "You will not run on the no party affiliation line."
"That's right. That's right. That's what I'm saying," Crist said.
Two polls conducted this month -- by Rasmussen Report
s and Daily Kos/Research 2000
-- showed Rubio ahead in a three-way race with Democrat Kendrick Meek and Crist as an independent, although the Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll had Rubio's lead within the margin of error.
(Meek issued a statement after the face-off, saying: "This was a debate between two feuding rivals who put their personal, petty disputes ahead of the needs of hardworking Floridians. We didn't hear solutions to Florida's problems today, just more ideological rhetoric that does nothing to reverse the greatest economic meltown to affect Florida families in generations.")
Read the full transcript of the debate.
Crist appeared on the Fox show with Rubio in a debate that was unusual for the fact that it was broadcast nationally. But the Crist-Rubio contest has attracted particular attention in a year of rising conservative anger, the Tea Party movement and efforts by activists to derail Republican candidates deemed not to be conservative enough.
That dynamic has helped Rubio rocket from a longshot candidate to one who has opened a lead over Crist that will be hard for him to overcome. The latest poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research
March 23-25 had Rubio leading Crist 48 percent to 37 percent with 15 percent undecided. Other polls have shown wider gaps.
Rubio started off the debate sounding the main theme for his challenge to Crist, who has been in the ill graces of many Republicans ever since last year when a news photo showed him giving President Obama a hug
when Obama came to Florida to campaign for his $787 billion stimulus package.
"People from all over America, all over Florida, are looking at this administration chip away at all the things that have made America great and unique throughout our history, " Rubio said. "And people are looking for leaders that will go to Washington, D.C. and stand up to this agenda...I've chosen to run for the United States Senate in Florida, because in Florida there's no other candidate that we can count on to actually do that."
When it came Crist's turn, he pounded away at Rubio for using "public service as a way to enhance his personal enrichment" by charging personal expenses
to the Republican Party as political expenses. Crist used a similar message in his first television ad of the campaign this week that used a red-line graph to show that Rubio's "income skyrocketed while his power increased" during his rise to the speakership of the state House.
, a project of the state's newspapers, rated the ad as "true," noting that Rubio's income was $89,878 in 2001 when he was elected to the House and rose to $414,000 in 2008. Much of that income came from Rubio's work as a lawyer for several firms, including one that did business with the Florida House, according to PolitiFact.
On the political expenses, Rubio acknowledged "we would have done a better job of reporting" but said he had identified those that were personal and repaid them.
But he hit back at Crist for going on the attack instead of making the debate about policy issues.
"Governor, you just don't get it," he said. "This campaign is not about you and it's not about me. It's about the people watching this program, that are watching their country being fundamentally redefined by this administration and this Congress."
Later, Rubio turned to moderator Chris Wallace and said, "We are almost 15 minutes into this debate and we have yet to hear a single serious public policy proposal from my opponent. All he wants to talk about is tearing me down, personal attacks, et cetera."
The two fenced also over the economic stimulus bill.
"The choice for Republicans in Florida is do you want a candidate that would have stood up to Barack Obama, voted against the stimulus and supported something that would have cost less money and created more jobs," Rubio said. "If that's the candidate you want, that would be me."
Crist countered that Florida's unemployment rate -- now at a record 12.2 percent -- would be worse without the stimulus money because even more jobs would have been lost.
The Florida primary is August 31.