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Rubio: I Would Have Taken Stimulus Money

Did Marco Rubio just blur the lines on what had been his chief weapon against Charlie Crist in the Florida Senate race? In the words of one GOP operative, this story on the St. Pete Times' Web site "is about to explode."

We've struggled lately to get a clear answer from Marco Rubio on whether as governor he would have accepted money from the federal stimulus package about which he is so critical. Keith Cate on Tampa Bay's NBC affiliate got a clearer answer (See here):

"Ultimately I would have accepted those portions of the money that would not have put Florida in a worse position off in the future than it is right now," Rubio said.

Crist's advocacy of the stimulus package, appearing with President Obama at a Florida rally, has been the chief hammer in Rubio's insurgent effort. Only days ago, he sought to use the White House's latest jobs plans, which some call a second stimulus, against the Florida governor. "As a supporter of the first stimulus, Charlie Crist should acknowledge its failures and condemn this new call for a stimulus sequel that will grow our government and deficit at the expense of lasting private sector investment," Rubio said in a statement.

So can Rubio now continue to criticize Crist on the issue when he himself says he would have accepted money from the very same package? A Rubio spokesman has not yet weighed in.

UPDATE 2: The Rubio campaign now responds, arguing that Rubio's position on this issue has been entirely consistent, as opposed to Crist's evolving explanations on whether he did or did not support the stimulus program. They claim Crist's camp is now simply trying to "muddy the waters" in an attempt to distract from that record.

"We know Charlie Crist has been all over the map in his rationale for supporting this," Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos tells RCP. "I think that we're on strong ground in terms of what Marco would have done: he would have opposed it with every tool at his disposal, he would have rallied against it, and he would have rallied support for a conservative alternative."

UPDATE 1: After the jump, see how Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek's campaign pounces on the quote:

"While Rubio and Crist continue playing their petty political games, Kendrick Meek is proud that he supported the Recovery Plan and is consistently fighting to jumpstart the economy. Crist was for the stimulus, now he's against it. Rubio was against the stimulus, now he's for it. Kendrick has taken one position. He supports the stimulus and will lead the effort to create jobs and end Florida's foreclosure crisis.