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Then-Gov. Charlie Crist and President Barack Obama embrace during a pro-stimulus rally in Fort Myers on Feb. 10, 2009. (AP photo) Then-Gov. Charlie Crist and President Barack Obama embrace during a pro-stimulus rally in Fort Myers on Feb. 10, 2009. (AP photo)

Then-Gov. Charlie Crist and President Barack Obama embrace during a pro-stimulus rally in Fort Myers on Feb. 10, 2009. (AP photo)

Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin June 23, 2016

Charlie Crist led Florida into economic recovery with stimulus, Obama says

Former Gov. Charlie Crist once faced withering criticism for hugging President Barack Obama, but now Obama is returning the favor by embracing Crist’s congressional campaign.

Obama endorsed Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, for a U.S. House seat in a June 20, 2016, statement. He said Crist "has always put people above politics," and proved it during his single gubernatorial term between January 2007 and January 2011 — right as the Great Recession gripped the state following the housing market’s crash.

"As governor, in the face of partisan attacks, he (Charlie Crist) had the courage to save jobs and lead his state into economic recovery," Obama said.

By "courage," Obama means Crist, as a GOP governor, had the chutzpah to accept federal stimulus money from a Democratic president against the wishes of many Florida Republicans.

Is it fair to credit Crist with saving jobs and helping Florida recover? The data during Crist’s term is mixed, experts say, but the state did recover and accepting the stimulus certainly helped.

A stimulating review

Remember that the recession officially began at the end of 2007, during Crist’s first year in office. The declining tax revenues and spiraling unemployment left the state facing massive budget shortfalls that were sure to result in cuts to state employees, including educators and law enforcement.

Obama, meanwhile, had pushed Congress to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Washington’s $787 billion stimulus package. Vehemently opposed to anything Obama-related, Florida Republicans turned up their noses at the idea.

But Crist committed a cardinal GOP sin by advocating for the stimulus, calling it a "pragmatic, commonsense opportunity to move forward." He lobbied the Florida congressional delegation to support the stimulus and made heart-eyes at Obama over the legislation. Then came that infamous hug at a Fort Myers rally with Obama on Feb. 10, 2009, the same day the Senate passed its version of the bill. Obama signed the stimulus into law a week later.

Republicans weren’t keen to forgive Crist for pushing Obama’s stimulus package.

"I don't know that my governor understands all the details in this package — that there will be nothing here to help with Florida's housing economy," U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez said in February 2009. (Martinez had announced in 2008 he wouldn’t seek re-election, which we’ll get to in a second.)

Broward County Republican state committeeman Ed Kennedy said Crist was "cooking his own goose."

The state then got some $3 billion to shore up road construction, Medicaid, job training and more, and used more stimulus money to plug a $5 billion hole in the 2009-10 fiscal year budget. There also was a lot of borrowing from state trust funds and creative new taxes and levies, as well as a pay freeze for state workers.

Before signing the stimulus-laden budget, Crist declared in May 2009 he would run for U.S. Senate as a Republican to replace Martinez.

Although Crist was the initial favorite for the job, his stimulus push continued to haunt him. Republican groups wanted to censure Crist and the conservative Club for Growth bashed him in an online ad, saying he should spend more time fixing the economy, not "passing more debt."

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The state again relied on stimulus money for the 2010-11 budget, but the issue proved to be a liability for Crist in his U.S. Senate campaign. Crist eventually even waffled a bit on his own support for the spending package. Facing pressure from Republicans, including Rubio, Crist announced in in April 2010 that he would continue the race as an independent in a three-way race with Rubio and Democratic challenger Kendrick Meek.

Rubio continued to attack Crist over the stimulus, deriding the package by saying on Fox News, "If it's bad for America, it can't possibly be good for your state." He also attacked Crist in debates, saying in one that, "If you like Obamacare, if you like the stimulus plan, you can vote for Charlie Crist or Kendrick Meek."

Rubio won the seat with almost 49 percent of the vote. Meek won 20 percent, and Crist garnered 29.7 percent.

So did the stimulus help?

Experts we’ve spoken to all say one thing is clear: Florida’s economy would have been worse without it.

"It is true that federal stimulus money helped reduce the recession’s magnitude and duration," Moody’s senior economist Chris Lafakis told us. "Florida’s economy bottomed out in terms of jobs in December 2009, when Crist was still in office."

His fellow Moody’s economist Kwame Donaldson added that it was "undeniable" the stimulus saved jobs in Florida, in part by keeping the state’s GDP from a continued decline in 2010.

The full scope of the jobs picture is fuzzy at best. A lot of figures have been bandied about, but one that is usually accepted is that stimulus money prevented the loss of close to 20,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the education system, which relied heavily on the stimulus for two years. That’s not all educators, mind you, and even some in the school system who had been laid off were rehired as the state recovered. Some 14,000 other full-time equivalent state jobs were shielded in part by the stimulus, too.

There is at least some data to suggest Florida was already limping back to a recovery by the time Crist left office. While Florida’s unemployment rate had ballooned to 11.4 percent by January 2010, a year later it had dropped to 10.9 percent, and kept falling. As of April 2016, the rate is 4.8 percent.

Under Crist, the state lost more than 800,000 jobs, although you can’t blame that squarely on Crist’s policies given the larger forces of the country’s recession and housing crisis. But it was still a fact Gov. Rick Scott was happy to bring up when Crist attempted a return to the governor’s office as a Democrat in 2014.

By and large, indicators show the state’s economy had stopped sliding, thanks in part to the stimulus money Crist had sought. But it’s not as if he rode a white horse into a recovery — Scott has enjoyed the big gains since 2011, as Florida joined the rest of the country climbing out of the recession.

We do have to provide our usual disclaimers when dealing with whether an official is responsible for something. Economists and analysts have told PolitiFact Florida countless times now that there are many caveats to looking at economic indicators as a measure of an elected figure.

Furthermore, any single governor’s policies are still subject to forces out of their control, such as, say, a global financial meltdown. Experts routinely contend it’s difficult to look at events in a vacuum, or to give credit for good outcomes while ignoring bad ones.

Our ruling

Obama said, "As governor, in the face of partisan attacks, he (Charlie Crist) had the courage to save jobs and lead his state into economic recovery."

Crist was a vocal advocate for the federal stimulus, and it cost him politically as his fellow Republicans attacked him for it. The state ended up using billions to plug holes in the budget, and economists we’ve consulted agree that funding prevented Florida’s dismal economic picture from getting even worse.

It’s a bit more difficult to entirely credit Crist with leading the state into a recovery, because most of the gains came after he left office, as the entire country emerged from the recession.

The statement is partially accurate, but leaves out important details. We rate it Half True.

Our Sources

Charlie Crist for Congress, "President Barack Obama Endorses Charlie Crist," June 20, 2016

Tampa Bay Times Buzz blog, "Obama endorses Charlie Crist in congressional race," June 20, 2016

Associated Press, "Fla. gov touts stimulus package benefit at meeting," Jan. 27, 2009

Time, "GOP Governors: Split over Obama's Stimulus Plan," Feb. 10, 2009

Tampa Bay Times, "Gov. Charlie Crist takes heat from Republicans for supporting stimulus package," Feb. 12, 2009

Orlando Sentinel, "Federal stimulus plan gives Florida $12 billion — and a way out of its budget problems," Feb. 17, 2009

NPR, "Florida's GOP Governor Backs Obama Stimulus Plan Queue," Feb. 19, 2009

CNN, "Florida governor announces run for Senate," May 12, 2009

Tampa Bay Times, "Gov. Crist signs $66.5 billion budget, breaks tax pledge," May 27, 2009

Talking Points Memo, "Crist Praises Obama in February: Passing Stimulus is 'About Helping Our Country'," Oct. 19, 2009

South Florida Sun Sentinel, "Florida Gov. Charlie Crist Censured In His Own State," Aug. 3, 2009

Palm Beach Post, "Palm Beach County GOP motion to censure Crist fails on tie vote," Aug. 12, 2009

Club For Growth, "Gov. Charlie Crist and the Stimulus," Nov. 5, 2009

PolitiFact Florida, "Charlie Crist says he didn't endorse stimulus bill," Nov. 5, 2009

Palm Beach Post, "Governor, in Jupiter, says stimulus money is helping save jobs," Nov. 12, 2009

Tampa Bay Times, "Crist's budget relies on stimulus money, the economy, a gambling deal," Jan. 29, 2010

Orlando Sentinel, "Florida takes its time spending federal stimulus money," Feb. 14, 2010

PBS Newshour, "Florida’s GOP Primary Heats Up with Anger over Government Spending," April 16, 2010

CNN, "Crist quits GOP primary, stage set for three-way race," April 29, 2010

PBS Newshour, "Gov. Crist, Rep. Meek Team Up on Rubio in Florida Senate Debate," Oct. 7, 2010

Huffington Post, "Charlie Crist Effusive About Barack Obama At Tampa Press Banquet," Nov. 16, 2012

PolitiFact Florida, "Charlie Crist says Florida's economic turnaround started at the end of his term as governor," March 11, 2014

PolitiFact Florida, "Dissecting the Republican theme ‘Crist crash, Scott surge’ in the governor’s race," May 31, 2014

PolitiFact Florida, "Charlie Crist has made mixed statements on the stimulus," Sept. 30, 2014

PolitiFact Florida, "Charlie Crist says in debate that stimulus saved 20,000 teacher jobs," Oct. 10, 2014

PolitiFact Florida, "Rick Scott blames Charlie Crist for 832,000 job losses," Oct. 10, 2014

PolitiFact Florida, "Scott says 3,000 teachers lost jobs under Crist," Oct. 15, 2014

Tampa Bay Times Buzz blog, "Was Obama's stimulus a 'failure' or a lifesaver for the Florida budget?," Feb. 26, 2016

Florida Department of State Division of Elections, Nov. 2, 2010 General Election results, accessed June 22, 2016

Interview with Kevin Cate, Crist spokesman, June 21, 2016

Interview with Chris Lafakis, Moody’s senior economist, June 21, 2016

Interview with Kwame Donaldson, Moody’s economist, June 21, 2016

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Charlie Crist led Florida into economic recovery with stimulus, Obama says

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