(CNN) – Florida Gov. Charlie Crist tells CNN he never endorsed President Obama's $787 billion stimulus measure, in what appears to be the latest effort by the Florida Republican to distance himself from the president as he seeks his party's Senate nomination.
"I didn't endorse it. I didn't even have a vote on the darned thing," Crist told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in an interview Wednesday on The Situation Room. "But I understood that it was going to pass and I wanted to be able to utilize it for the benefit of my fellow Floridians."
The comments came a day after former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, Crist's conservative challenger for the GOP nomination, launched a Web site featuring a photograph of the governor appearing with President Obama at a Florida rally for the stimulus measure last February.
Text under the image reads, "Get the picture? Donate now to stand up for conservative principles."
Crist was one of only a handful of Republican governors to publicly extend some support to the president's $787 billion stimulus package – a move that rankled some conservatives in his home state and across the country.
In the interview with CNN, Crist called the move a "pragmatic" one given that the bill was certain to pass and his state stood to benefit from federal dollars.
"That was back in February, less than a month after the president was sworn into office, the first time he visits our state," Crist said. "And I was pragmatic, I think, about what we needed to do. Everybody knew the bill was going to pass."
"I, like all other Republican governors, utilized that money for the benefit of the people in my state. And that's what a pragmatic conservative does - a CEO, if you will, of a state does that," Crist also said.
But Crist appeared considerably more enthusiastic about the spending measure at the Florida rally on February 10 when he was introducing the president.
"It's getting harder every day, and we know that it's important that we pass this stimulus package," he said then with the president by his side. "It's important that we do so to help education, to help our infrastructure, and to help healthcare for those who need it most - the most vulnerable."
"This is not about partisan politics, this is about rising above that, helping America, and reigniting our economy," Crist also said then. (video below)