Crist, Meek Fight for Dems Votes in Senate Race
U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek may have won the most Democratic votes in the primary on Tuesday, but that doesn’t answer the question: can he win the most Democratic votes in the general election?
Meek is competing for a similar share of the vote in November as Gov. Charlie Crist, who had been the Republican leader of the state government until April, but now is clearly stumping for Democratic votes in his quest to win the Senate seat as an independent. That leaves Meek essentially having to worry about voters a nominee might normally take for granted.
“There’s not enough (Democratic) votes for both Charlie and Kendrick,” party activist and former Democratic state Sen. Steve Geller said Wednesday, a day after Meek overwhelmingly defeated real estate mogul Jeff Greene for the Democratic nomination.
The problem for Meek, Geller said, is that voters who don’t agree with the views of Republican Marco Rubio may be as comfortable voting for Crist as they would be casting a ballot for Meek as the Democratic standard-bearer. In fact, an Aug. 19 Quinnipiac University poll showed Crist garnering more support among Democrats – 45 percent – than Meek, who drew 36 percent.
“I think what you will find is that there’s only room for one anti-Marco candidate,” Geller said.
If Meek is trailing Crist in polls, anti-Rubio voters may desert Meek for Crist, thinking he’s a better shot to beat Rubio, the conventional wisdom goes.
“Five weeks from now voters are going to start looking around and whoever is in second place will start to pick up voters from whoever is in third place,” Geller said. “It’s a sprint between Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meek to be the anti-Marco.”
That sprint has already started. A group of five Teamsters locals announced Wednesday that they were endorsing Crist, citing his commitment to creating jobs. The unions endorsing a candidate who was a Republican as recently as this year underscored the notion that they will compete for the same voters in November.
Crist has reached out repeatedly to Democratic-leaning groups, including unions, since bolting the GOP and it paid off Wednesday with Teamsters locals in Tampa, Bradenton, Orlando and Jacksonville, endorsing him. Another Teamsters local in Mobile, Ala., also endorsed Crist in the Senate race because it has members in the western Florida Panhandle.
“Charlie Crist is a good governor who cares more about people than party,” said Teamsters Local 79 President Ken Wood. “He stood up for President Obama’s stimulus package when he thought it would help working families in Florida, even though he took a lot of flak from his own party for doing so.”
The Teamsters also praised Crist’s support for the Express Carrier Employee Protection Act, a controversial labor law measure involving express package delivery workers.
“We need to elect politicians who listen to us, who represent us and who protect us, and that’s exactly what Charlie Crist has done for Florida’s working families,” Wood said. The state’s largest organized labor group, the AFL-CIO, has endorsed Meek, though the state’s large teachers union, the Florida Education Association, co-endorsed Crist and
Meek quickly countered Wednesday with a union endorsement of his own, from the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO had endorsed Meek earlier this year despite strong entreaties from Crist. The state’s teacher’s union, the Florida Education Association, co-endorsed Meek and Crist.
Meek’s campaign also was trying to remind Democratic voters that it wasn’t so long ago that Crist was pushing hard to the right. The campaign began on Wednesday circulating E-mails that Crist’s campaign sent to supporters when he was battling Rubio for the Republican nomination, in which Crist said “It’s hard to be more conservative than I am on issues.”
Geller gave Meek a better shot than most Florida and national political observers did Wednesday, pointing to his wide 26 point margin of victory in the primary Tuesday. But competing with Crist will be a much different campaign, he quickly added.
“Kendrick made a very impressive come from behind surge against Greene,” he said. “Whatever it is that he did seems to have worked. He seems to have momentum. But you can’t compare Jeff Greene to Charlie Crist. Charlie is a skilled politician, the second best retail politician I’ve ever seen, the first being Bill Clinton. When Charlie shakes your hand, looks into your eyes and tells you he feels your pain, people believe him.”
Perhaps with the challenge ahead in mind, in his victory speech Tuesday night, Meek continued referring to himself as the “real Democrat” in the race, the slogan he used to beat back the primary challenge from Greene. He took also took thinly-veiled shots at Crist for recently converting to Democratic-friendly positions.
“I will not start changing on you when you need me,” Meek told a cheering crowd in Hollywood. “This election is going to be about where the candidates stand. I’m running against two conservative candidates for the United States Senate that have similar records,” he continued, ticking off a list of his Democratic credentials.
Just as quickly Tuesday night, however, Crist began casting himself as the natural choice for the same group of voters.
“I will take the best ideas – whether they come from Democrats or Republicans – to get results for the people of Florida, because the only way to craft common sense solutions to our problems is to reach across party lines – to listen and work together,” Crist said in a post-primary E-mail to supporters. “Now that the primaries are over, it is clear that I am the only candidate in this race who can do that, who has a track record of doing it, and if I win, will have the mandate from the people to do it.”
Meanwhile, Rubio released his first general election ad Wednesday, a biographical spot touting his Cuban-American background.
“My parents lost everything,” Rubio said in the commercial. “Their home. Families. Friends. Even their country. But they found something too … America.”
“What makes our story so special is that it isn’t unique. The American Dream is still a reality,” Rubio concluded. “And I approve this message because that’s worth fighting for.”
By Keith Laing
The News Service of Florida