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Tomorrow are the South Carolina primaries, and former VP Joe Biden leads in the poll, followed by winner of the first three contests, Sen. Bernie Sanders and businessman Tom Steyer. Some Republican South Carolinians may vote for Sanders because they want closed primaries.

Crist: Oil Spill Off the Coast, but Our Beaches Are Still Open

May 13, 2010

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - In an effort to protect Florida businesses hurt by BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Gov. Crist signed an emergency order Wednesday to cut red tape for local governments providing relief, and he asked the Small Business Administration to provide low-interest loans.

Speaking at the Unified Command Center in St. Petersburg, the governor said the tourism industry has already been hit with cancellations and reduced bookings, even though no oil has reached the state. He has asked BP for nearly $35 million for a marketing campaign to get a message to potential visitors.

"Our beaches are still clean, our hotels are still open, the restaurants are doing well and we want people to continue to come on down and help our tourist industry. It's important to get that message out."

He says the BP money looks likely, and it follows on the heels of $25 million pledged by the company to help Florida with cleanup, some of which might also be used in the marketing campaign.

Keith Overton, chairman of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and COO of the Tradewinds Resort, testified before a Senate panel that whether it strikes or not, the oil spill could hurt tourism worse than the series of hurricanes in 2004. He says hotels are suffering from the perception that Florida's beaches will be spoiled, even though that has not happened yet.

"Florida is going to have a tough battle ahead as it relates to how does the state market itself. Because some of the top factors of coming to Florida are blue waters, beautiful beaches, a great environment and all of those things are at risk right now. So, we're in for a tough year here."

Critics have assigned political motives to the governor's extraordinary measures to prepare for an impact from the oil spill, but Crist says the state has to do everything it can to protect Florida's environment because it's critical to the state's livelihood.

"When you've got a crisis of the magnitude that we are facing here, I don't think you can overreact to it. This is a real and present danger; this has the potential to be the largest single environmental and economic disaster in the history of Florida. But we'll be aggressive, we'll be appropriate and we'll protect our state."

The governor called it a blessing that we haven't been hit yet, but cautioned that the state is facing an "oil volcano in the gulf."

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL