Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 5, 2010

ON THE TRAIL WITH KENDRICK MEEK.... On paper, Rep. Kendrick Meek (D), a leading U.S. Senate candidate in Florida, should be in reasonably good electoral shape. He's a fairly popular congressman and law-enforcement officer who enjoys the backing of Democratic giants like former President Bill Clinton. What's more, the Democratic candidate will be in a three-way contest in November, with Republican Marco Rubio and used-to-be-Republican Charlie Crist.

It's fairly easy to imagine the winning scenario -- Rubio and Crist split the GOP vote, and Meek, running in a state Barack Obama won by about three points in 2008, comes out on top with support from Florida Dems.

At least, that's the scenario the Meek campaign and the DSCC are hoping for. Thus far, the road to the Senate has run into a few roadblocks. While Meek was effectively running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, he's now up against billionaire Jeff Greene, who's been going after the congressman quite aggressively. In the general match-ups, recent polls show Meek struggling badly.

I had a chance to chat with Meek a few days ago. We talked at some length about the BP oil spill threatening Florida -- Meek is, not surprisingly, deeply concerned about the environmental and economic impact of the disaster -- but transitioned to the state of the Senate race.

On the oil spill as it relates to coastal drilling:

"As of recently, there have been some figures in Florida who have promoted off-shore drilling. Even in the state legislature, there was a bill filed by the Republican incoming Speaker to allow off-shore drilling three miles off the coast of Florida. Looking at the present situation, I know Floridians will definitely be against such an idea. It's devastating for those of us here in Florida to see not only tar balls, but big oil splotches on our white, sandy beaches. [...]

"Individuals were sent to Congress to protect their constituents, not stand up on behalf of multi-national companies like BP. I think it's important that voters pay attention to who's ... standing up for the communities that are affected by the fact that BP did not do what it was supposed to do to make sure this incident never happened in the first place, and that people are not left behind in the future, as it relates to holding the bag on damages to small businesses, individuals, and the environment."

On the importance of drilling in the campaign:

"[Offshore drilling] will be a major turning point in the campaign. I'm the only candidate in this race that has a 100% League of Conservation Voters record. I am the only candidate in this race that has been consistently against offshore oil drilling. I am the only candidate in this race who can speak with a straight face on this issue."

On the state of the primary:

"I think things are going well.... The turnout will not be what we want it to be, but I can tell you for those who do turn out, we'll be victorious. The Democratic primary will be about elevating a Democrat to the general election. Mr. Green does not have a Democratic record. I am the only candidate, of the four major candidates in this race for the United States Senate that has not run as a Republican in the past. I think that will be helpful in the primary."

On his low name-recognition statewide:

"There's so much attention on Rubio-Crist through quarters three and four of last year, and now quarter one and two of this year. Quarter three is going introduce me through earned media to the state of Florida... People will hear from me and see the support that other groups bring to the table."

On whether he'd support institutional reforms in the Senate:

"I will work with those members who understand that the filibuster rule is not only outdated, but is being abused. When the United States Senate is not able to do its work, America suffers. The filibuster was originally in place to make sure the minority party is not left out of the decision-making process -- a tool to force bipartisanship. It's done just the opposite."

As a political observer, I found some of Meek's answers stronger than others. When I brought up the "enthusiasm gap" between the parties' bases, the congressman talked only about his own institutional endorsements, not the larger trend. When I asked what the Democratic congressional majority might consider in the coming months to improve its odds of staying in power, he wouldn't go into details, adding, "The Congress has done a lot."

In general, though, Meek seemed like a confident, capable Senate candidate. I got the impression he's unfazed by his underwhelming poll numbers, and expects be the tortoise that eventually passes the better-known hares.

It's obviously easier said than done. As Charlie Crist, running as an independent and moving to the left, stays on top of the polls, there's "evidence that Democratic donors are starting to line up behind" the governor, not Meek. There seems to be a practical concern among institutional Dems in Florida -- if Meek continues to struggle in the multi-candidate race, Crist is seen as the electable, preferable alternative to the right-wing Rubio.

Meek has time to improve his numbers, and keep institutional Democrats in his corner, though the primary certainly complicates matters. Talking to him, the congressman sounded convinced he's right where he needs to be. Whether that confidence is warranted will be clear soon enough.

Steve Benen 10:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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Rubio and Crist split the GOP vote

Rubio and Crist aren't going to split the GOP vote. Rubio has the GOP vote all to himself. Crist is doing best with Independents and Democrats.

Posted by: Jinchi on July 5, 2010 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Is Jeff Greene a phony Democrat just running interference? How easy to tell, and who is keeping track of who might be impostors etc?

Posted by: neil b. on July 5, 2010 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Crist will take some of the GOP vote. There are sane GOPer's left. As for the right-wing? Rubio has that on lock.

I hope Meek has a plan he's not sharing. He is soooo faaaaaaar behind I'm getting very nervous. Even if Crist is moving Left now, what's to guarantee he's going to play nice once in office? He comes off as a guy who will do for the one that butters his bread. I don't trust him.

Posted by: Alli on July 5, 2010 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, I get it.

Now that the oil is approaching, which might keep the tourist money away, FL politicians are turning into environmentalists.

Never mind that you'd be arrested or shot for suggesting a zoning code anywhere in the state.

Never mind that the state has spent the last 150 years actively destroying one of the greatest natural wonders in the world, laying waste millions of acres of the Everglades.

Never mind that they've allowed such indiscriminate use of the water table that the sinkhole is the state structure.

Never mind that the acreage that hasn't been destroyed by development has been devastated by sugar cane farming, which is profitable only because FL and LA politicians protect domestic cane with outrageous limits and tariffs on foreign sugar.

Not to even mention the wonderful social conscience of the state... Teri Schiavo... gay marriage...

I wish Meek well, probably futilely, but as far as I'm concerned the whole goddamned peninsula could break off and float to Cuba. I wouldn't miss it.

Posted by: efgoldman on July 5, 2010 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

it would be nice to see some signs of life from meek's campaign. meek is going to have to show that he has a legitimate shot at winning the seat, otherwise there's going to be a lot of democrats and left and centrist independents voting for crist to keep rubio out of washington. i've read a lot of good things about rep. meek and his strengths as a candidate, but it would be nice to see them in action.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on July 5, 2010 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

I grew up in Florida. This is about race.

If Crist had not decided to jump in, Meeks might have had a small chance, depending on how much the media was willing to expose Rubio for the corrupt nutcase that he is, although his chances would have been better in a presidential year. With Crist being sold as a 'moderate', 'pragmatic','effective', 'problem solver', Meek doesn't have a chance. The choice in the voting booth is always "as opposed to who?". McCain's erractic campaign behavior plus high turnout of new voters allowed the Obama win in 08. None of that is in play in 2010. Florida is not the Deep South, but it's the South, and Meeks is going down hard in November. His capabilities or lack thereof really have nothing to do with it.

Posted by: dcsusie on July 5, 2010 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

Dems in Florida wanted an excuse to vote Crist--look at the cross-party support he got in the run for governor--and Crist has given them plenty over the last few weeks.

Crist IS a moderate but is also a political opportunist. Yet if he's elected on the backs of Dems and Indies he's going to stay in political spectrum that got their support.

Posted by: mnpundit on July 5, 2010 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Kendrick is my Congressman, and I really like him. He's extremely competent, does his homework--and then some. Real nose-to-the-grindstone, let's-make-some-sausage kind of guy. Definitely good Senator material, if merit had any campaign advantage.
Unfortunately for him (and us), he's always been in a really, really safe district. I don't know when he's had a credible challenger, if ever. His legislative skills are pretty good, but he never had to learn campaigning, and that will probably mean his political career ends here.
He deserves better, and so do we.

Posted by: Stan on July 5, 2010 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

Meek IS the only Dem in the race. I really don't understand why Dems can't get behind him for the primary. We need to have a real Dem on the November ballot.

Posted by: norwood on July 5, 2010 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK



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