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Not-on-ballot Crist gets two victories

Endowed with high voter approval ratings and an ambitious agenda, Gov. Charlie Crist cashed in his political currency to back two campaigns and on Tuesday won the Daily Double.

The passage of the property-tax amendment and his Saturday endorsement of John McCain proved the governor is either prescient or blessed with a golden touch.

''It's a two-pronged victory for Florida,'' Crist demurred on Tuesday as he celebrated McCain's win at the Miami Airport Hilton.

He refused to take any credit for helping push McCain to win Florida's hard-fought presidential primary, even though recent polls consistently showed the Arizona senator in a virtual tie with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

''John McCain articulated the best message for our country and that's why he won,'' Crist said, just before standing on the stage next to McCain as the victorious senator gave him a shout-out on national television.

But others were ready to give Crist more credit.

''Endorsements matter,'' McCain said as he campaigned with Crist on Tuesday. ``After Governor Crist endorsed us we did see an uptick of support.''

Forty-two percent of Republicans said Crist's endorsement ''was important,'' according to exit polls by Edison/Mitofsky for the National Election Pool.

House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber called Crist early Tuesday night and left a cellphone message predicting he would ``have a good night.''

''When you build up goodwill with the voters you've got to spend it, and he spent it wisely,'' said Gelber, who opposed the tax amendment. ``He's very popular and he's come by it honestly.''

Senate President Ken Pruitt said the property-tax win overcame predictions of defeat by ''nearly every editorial board, many local government officials, and some politicians'' and ``is a big win for Floridians and for Governor Crist.''

The governor surprised even McCain when, after being aggressively lobbied by both Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, he decided to endorse McCain at a Republican Party event in St. Petersburg on Saturday. He then lent his top fundraiser to McCain's campaign Tuesday to help replenish the candidate's dwindling finances.

Meanwhile, as public opinion polls consistently showed the property tax amendment to be below the 60 percent threshold needed to become law, Crist pushed it relentlessly, campaigning around the state last week and throughout the weekend.

Using the same campaign staff he assembled for his governor's campaign, he raised more than $4.4 million from real estate agents, Florida Power & Light and other business groups to promote the amendment. In the final weekend, 2.5 million automated phone calls were made to likely voters.

The fragmented opposition couldn't compete. It was made up of the teachers union, firefighters, police and city and county officials, who worried that the amendment would lead to a loss of jobs and critical public services. They never raised enough money to get on TV.

''We can't fight against the national Realtors and Charlie Crist's money,'' said Deborah Dion, spokeswoman for the South Florida AFL-CIO. ``We have people power.''

Staff writers Gary Fineout and Laura Figueroa contributed to this report

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