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Mayor Alvarez, ex-Sen. Pruitt stand by Crist

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez staunchly defended Gov. Charlie Crist for supporting the federal economic stimulus package at the governor's first fundraiser tonight as a non-partisan candidate for the U.S. Senate.

The Republican mayor said it would have been "flat-out wrong'' not to accept the handout from the Democratic administration, which amounted to more than $200 million for public safety, housing and transit in Miami-Dade. Asked if the governor could have taken the money without campaigning for it with President Obama, Alvarez said, "It's kind of hypocritical to take the money and then badmouth it.'

Former House Speaker Marco Rubio's relentless attacks against the $787 billion stimulus plan helped him overtake Crist in polls of Republican primary voters, forcing the governor to run as an independent or face getting crushed on Aug. 24. Rubio has said he would have accepted most of the federal money if he was governor but argued that the spending plan was the wrong approach to the recession.

"What would have happened to our budget without the stimulus money?'' Alvarez asked the crowd of about 150 people at the Grand Beach Hotel on Miami Beach, "The people who criticize it have never run anything in their lives.''

Former State Sen, Ken Pruitt, a Republican who served as Senate President when Rubio led the House, introduced Crist -- now in a three-way race to Nov. 2 against Rubio and the leading Democratic candidate, Kendrick Meek.

"He's not going it alone,'' said Pruitt, echoing a headline from a recent St. Petersburg Times front page that featured a picture of Crist by himself in his office, "He's got the people with him."

Fort Lauderdale lobbyist Tom Panza said he will be involved in helping to run the campaign in Broward County. "I'm a good Democrat but I'm also a Charlie Crist loyalist,'' he said. "I'll be with him until the last dog dies.''

Crist asked for a show of hands at the event, which revealed more Republicans than Democrats and independents. "This is a great event, more than I ever expected,'' he said. "When you have the people on your side, you can't be beat."

The eclectic crowd included Republicans (state Rep. Marcelo Llorente of Miami, Kirk Fordham of the Everglades Foundation, Daytona Beach developer/Bush Ranger Mori Hosseini)  to Democrats (Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, trial lawyers Chris Searcy of West Palm Beach and Steve Yerrid of Tampa), Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera, and Harvest Fire Worship Center Pastor Donald Clarke,

Crist -- whose fundraising is expected to tank without the GOP behind him -- introduced his finance director, Dane Eagle, and said, "If anyone wants to host one of these...We got to keep putting coal in the engine. We need to keep going."