Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who is being heavily courted by Republican presidential candidates, warmly praised GOP hopeful John McCain Tuesday, but stopped short of an endorsement.
Speaking at a fundraiser just two blocks from the state Capitol, Crist introduced McCain, saying: "He is a great friend of Florida and he is a great friend to me."
Describing McCain's five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, Crist summed up his admiration for the Arizona senator: "When ordinary Americans do extraordinary things they inspire us all, and that's what this man does for me."
Florida sent 112 delegates to the 2004 Republican National Convention - more than any state except California and Texas.
Crist handily won the governor's office last November - one of the GOP's few important victories in an election dominated by Democratic wins.
Exactly what Americans want
Other Republican presidential hopefuls, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, appeared with Crist during his campaign last fall, but none spent as much time publicly supporting Crist as McCain, who endorsed Crist during the primary.
While Crist has not endorsed a candidate in the presidential primary, it is clear he likes and respects McCain. Tuesday was the first time since his election Crist has appeared with a Republican presidential hopeful at a fundraiser.
"He's got a record of bipartisanship, straight talk, independent thinking. That's important and it's refreshing and I know that's exactly what Americans want," Crist said. "What the people want us to do is work together to do what's right."
Crist has practiced that theme since the election, appointing Democrats to serve as agency heads, meeting regularly with Democratic leaders and often recognizing Democratic lawmakers at public events as often as he does their Republican counterparts.
"Gov. Crist has set an example for the rest of the party in a variety of ways, but certainly in bipartisanship," McCain said after the fundraiser, which took in $300,000 for his campaign and was hosted by Brian Ballard, a lobbyist who served as a Crist campaign adviser.
Crist succeeded Republican Jeb Bush, who did not seek re-election after two terms as governor. Several of Bush's political allies are backing Romney in the presidential race.