[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/11/09/art.rubio1.gi.jpg caption="Rubio is battling Charlie Crist for the Florida Senate nomination."](CNN) - It appears former President George W. Bush isn't following the Senate Republican primary in Florida as closely as many members of his party.
Bush, appearing at the Naples Town Hall Distinguished Speaker Series on Tuesday, joked that he had never heard of Marco Rubio.
Rubio, of course, is the former Florida House Speaker and conservative favorite who recent polls suggest is locked in a tight race with Gov. Charlie Crist.
"Who the hell is Marco Rubio?" Bush said when asked about his thoughts on the election, according to local television station WINK.
Bush appeared to be joking, the station reported.
A spokesman for Bush told CNN the former president "of course knows who Marco Rubio is."
" He knows him, and he respects him," Spokesman David Sherzer said. "For anyone to use this quote out of context is a shame."
Jeb Bush, the ex-Florida governor and brother of the former president, also took part in the town hall event and said he is not taking sides in the divisive Senate primary.
While the national party quickly lined up behind Crist's candidacy last year, Rubio has won support from a steady stream of conservatives, most recently from Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.
Rubio heads to Washington later this week for a series of fundraisers and an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Committee.