From NBC/NJ's Matthew E. Berger
ORLANDO, FL -- Charlie Crist is on the agenda for the Orange County Lincoln Day Dinner, just below Giuliani as the guest of honor. But an endorsement is not on the menu.
Crist did not appear at the dinner -- he changed his plans several days ago, sources said -- but his presence was certainly felt. Giuliani aides were visibly upset Saturday at the news that the popular Florida governor would be backing McCain.
Giuliani campaign sources said Crist pledged his endorsement to Giuliani in the early fall, when McCain's campaign appeared dead and Giuliani was leading the state by double digits. But at the time, McCain supporters leaned on Crist to hold back and wait until after the New Hampshire primary. McCain had campaigned for Crist when he was seeking the Republican nomination for governor, and had hoped Crist would return the favor.
After McCain's New Hampshire victory, Giuliani aides did not know what Crist would do next, but the governor had said as recently as Friday that he might still weigh in before the Florida primary. Giuliani and Crist met when the mayor campaigned in Tallahassee last week, but aides said the meeting was more perfunctory than a plea for an endorsement. Giuliani campaign aides said they were given an early warning today that Crist would throw his weight behind McCain.
The news is a definitive blow to Giuliani, and a sign of his fading prospects in the Sunshine State. Giuliani has gone out of his way on numerous occasions to praise Crist, and each time suggested he would be a viable vice presidential candidate.