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Crist won't 'judge' McCollum ads

Gov. Charlie Crist offered only a mild defense of Attorney General Bill McCollum's no-bid contract with his former campaign consultant to run ads warning parents about Internet sex predators.

Asked if the ads look more like political spots than public service announcements, Crist said, "I'll leave that to others to judge. I know that the cause he's talking about is incredibly important, having been attorney general.''

Compare his remarks to the strongly worded defense from Crist's handpicked chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, Jim Greer, who called criticism of the ads a "partisan witch hunt."

Crist was in Hialeah today to promote his Cover Florida initiative to help the estimated 4 million people who don't have private insurance. He said only about 1,000 people have signed up.

"While it's disappointing to me, for the 1,000 or so that have signed up, it's a breakthrough,'' he said.

Asked about scaling back plans to buy Big Sugar land to help the Everglades, Crist said, "The economy is what it is. I think we're going to have an announcement Wednesday or Thursday on that, but we have to deal with the reality that exists right now, and there is less money...I think hopefully by Wednesday or Thursday we'll show a plan that hits the sweet spot -- no pun intended  -- but also recognizes that these are difficult economic times, but also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.''

On whether he's warming to the idea of raising taxes on cigarettes if the money went to health care: "Certainly the health care aspect of it makes it more palatable than it would be otherwise. I'd still rather not do it if we don't have to, but we've only got four weeks left to go in our session."

On reports that he's disengaged from the budget process: "Oh I don't have any days off. I'm always on the phone. I'm always working. I'm never not governor of Florida and very engaged and I think we're making some very good progress."