The White House did not hide its irritation today at Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist for ducking President Bush at a campaign rally.

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PENSACOLA, Fla. – The White House did not hide its irritation today at Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist for ducking President Bush at a campaign rally in the Republican friendly Panhandle.

Crist said he considered the Pensacola area so firmly in his camp that it made more sense to campaign elsewhere in the state as the race to replace outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush tightened.

On a tarmac in Texas where the president boarded Air Force One for the trip east, Bush political strategist Karl Rove mockingly questioned what kind of alternate rally Crist could put together that would rival the expected 10,000-person crowd that Bush was expected to draw at the Pensacola Civic Center.

The White House already had distributed schedules saying Crist would introduce Bush at the rally.

Crist’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Jim Davis, seized on the news.

“Now that the president is so unpopular, Charlie refuses to stand side by side with him,” Davis said. “It says when the going gets tough, Charlie won’t stand up.”

Crist’s chief of staff, George LeMieux, said the candidate already has strong support in the heavily Republican Pensacola area and thought his time would be better spent campaigning elsewhere. LeMieux said the decision had nothing to do with the president’s job approval ratings.

Jeb Bush will attend the Pensacola event in Crist’s place. Rep. Katherine Harris, who is mounting a lukewarm challenge to Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, will also be with the president. Before the September primary, Republican leaders failed to support Harris.

Bush is using the last day of his 10-state campaign swing to flush out GOP and swing voters needed to keep Republicans sitting in the governor’s offices of Arkansas and Texas as well.

It is his fifth consecutive day of campaigning, traveling to states where his advisers believe he can best help fend off the Democratic threat to take over Congress and end up with a majority of governorships for the first time in 12 years.

After Florida, Bush is heading to Arkansas where the race for governor pits Democratic Attorney General Mike Beebe against Republican Asa Hutchinson, a former congressman and federal Homeland Security official.

The Beebe-Hutchinson faceoff for the open governership already is the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in state history. Overall, Beebe, who is leading in the polls, has raised $6.3 million and spent $5.7 million in his bid for governor. Hutchinson, a former congressman, has raised nearly $3.3 million and spent about $3.1 million.

Before returning to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Bush is speaking at a rally in Dallas for Gov. Rick Perry, who is leading the polls in his re-election bid.

On Election Day, Bush plans to vote in Crawford and then fly back to Washington to wait for ballot returns.

AP Political Writer Brendan Farrington in Pinellas Park, Fla., Associated Press Writer Mitch Stacy in Ruskin, Fla., and Associated Press Writer Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock contributed to this report.