Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 14, 2010

SENATE STRATEGERY IN THE SUNSHINE STATE.... For much of the summer, it looked as if Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (I), after leaving the GOP and moving to the left, was well positioned in the state's open U.S. Senate race. But after the primaries, Democratic voters started to rally behind Rep. Kendrick Meek (D), whose post-primary bounce came at Crist's expense, though it hasn't been enough to keep the Democrat from running third.

At this point, all the recent polls show the same thing -- Crist and Meek are splitting the center-left, leaving Marco Rubio (R) with double-digit leads. It's prompted some to begin whispering about whether Meek should withdraw, giving Crist a shot at victory, making it far less likely that a far-right Republican will take the seat, and holding out the possibility that Crist would end up caucusing with Dems.

The whispers are almost certainly in vain. For one thing, Meek swears up and down he isn't going anywhere, and there's literally no evidence to the contrary. For another, in the exceedingly unlikely chance Meek were to quit, it's too late to remove the Democratic nominee's name from the ballot anyway.

But just for the sake of conversation, would it be a good idea? In his column for The Hill, Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas raises a good point.

The truth is that Democrats aren't just happy for Meek to stay in the race, they are actively boosting what is pretty much a hopeless candidacy. Why? Because Meek's presence on the ballot helps Democrats in the governor's race.

With Democrats poised to lose myriad governors' races, winning Florida would be a massive coup.... But more substantively, holding the governorship would be a huge assist to Obama's reelection bid in 2012, as keeping Florida blue will be a top White House priority. In addition, Florida's governor has a veto over the state's congressional redistricting in 2012. While a ballot initiative aims to strip that power from the partisan Legislature into more impartial hands, holding the governorship will be critical if that effort fails.

And that's where Meek comes in. Thirteen percent of Florida voters are -- like Meek -- African-American, and right now polls show him with 71 percent support in that community. That vote will be critical to Democrat Alex Sink's chances in the virtually deadlocked gubernatorial race. In a campaign where every vote will prove critical, Democrats can't count on Crist delivering new votes to other Democratic candidates. Abandoning Meek for Crist would almost surely depress African-American turnout and cost Democrats elsewhere on the ballot.

In some conversations with Florida Dems, I've heard the sentiment more than once -- if given a choice, they'd rather win the governor's race than the Senate race, a preference made easier by polls showing the former practically tied, and the latter looking like a blowout.

If it takes a grand bargain -- Meek's presence helps Rubio and Sink (and down-ballot Dems) win their respective contests -- it's one many in the party will gladly accept.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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Makes sense, really. And considering how completely stupid the Senate already is, I can't find it in me to worry about adding Rubio to the ranks.

Posted by: Shade Tail on October 14, 2010 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Does anyone have an inkling, if Crist wins, who he'd caucus with?

Posted by: A DC Wonk on October 14, 2010 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

A DC Wonk, that's part of the problem. He won't say, even though it's widely assumed he would caucus with the Dems.

Democrats have no reason to trust him. Even if he caucuses with the Dems in 2011, what will stop him from abandoning them in, say, 2013 or 2015, if the majority hinges on the whims of Charlie Crist?

He's an opportunist. Totally untrustworthy.

Posted by: m1 on October 14, 2010 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

There is, of course, no rule that says Crist can't bow out and throw his wholehearted support to Meek, either.

Posted by: slappy magoo on October 14, 2010 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

I wish more Democrats thought like those in Florida. Here in Illinois and in my recently former home state of Wisconsin, we've got high-profile Senate races that are overshadowing gubernatorial races that will have much bigger impacts over the next 4-6 years. Democrats formally losing the Senate would be bad, but we already don't have it in practice. The competitive gov. races that are flying under the radar are going to have much more direct effects on the economy and social services than any Senate seat.

Posted by: Aaron S. Veenstra on October 14, 2010 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

There's also something to be said for making the Republicans own their own crazy. Helping out Crist just means the tea-baggers have one more excuse/conspiracy theory as to why they're shut out of the process - let these nuts win. It will suck for a while, but it's the only way to clean out the system . . .

Posted by: Mike on October 14, 2010 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

["let these nuts win. It will suck for a while, but it's the only way to clean out the system . . ."]

This type of "tough love" is over-rated. Liberal utopias rarely emerge after extremist right-wingers take over, regardless of how bad they do and how much they piss off the public. And considering how much work we have to do already to clean up the past 30 years, it's hard to imagine that allowing the GOP to add to that pile would do the country much good in either the short or long term.

Posted by: Shade Tail on October 14, 2010 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

I accept this is the way national Dems think, and, certainly, having a Dem in the governor's chair could lead to a redistricting less ludicrously GOP-skewed than what FL currently has.

On the other hand...there's never a time when the 50 governors hold a majority-rule vote (to say nothing of a need-60 vote) in which one extra seat can make the difference. I think control of the Senate, despite our disappointments over the past two years, is hugely significant, and it irsk me to see it viewed as secondary.

Posted by: demtom on October 14, 2010 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

Neither the simple minded analysis nor the commenters get it!

This is nonsense: "Crist is at 32%, Meek at 23%, so if Meek drops out then Crist will have 55%, so Dems should cut a deal with him to caucus with them in exchange for Meek's endorsement."

It doesn't WORK! A LOT of Dems won't vote for Crist because he's the former Republican governor and they don't like him!

Meek doesn't OWN their votes and can't transfer them like a stock broker trades stock!

If Meek dropped out, a LOT of his voters would either sit out the election, vote for third parties or simply not enter a vote for Senate.

How many? Nobody can know, but it's obvious that Democratic turnout would be seriously depressed.

A LOT of that 23% would simply disappear and Rubio would STILL WIN!

Florida is simply going to have that asshole in the U.S. Senate for the next six years.

Posted by: Cugel on October 14, 2010 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Dividend: Slippery Charlie Crist will lose.

Posted by: Jim Pharo on October 14, 2010 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Why should the duly nominated candidate of a major political party (which won the state in the last presidential elecion) drop out in favor of an ego candidate rejected by his own party? Even ignoring the other cons (effect on governor's race, untrustworthiness of Crist, etc) it seems to me that there is an institutional argument against Meek dropping out. I think the situation reflects more the failure of the party to make getting a strong candidate a priority - if Dean's 50 state strategy had been maintained, Dems might now be in a position to exploit the Republican split, as they also would be in Alaska with a stronger candidate.

Posted by: dcsusie on October 14, 2010 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

In addition to the previous 3 comments, no one in Florida seems to like Charlie Crist. Speaking as one with family and friends there, the Republicans don't like him very much- I think they think he's a tool- and the Democrats see him as opportunistic. For some reason, the media has seen him as a legit player in Florida politics but the reality is that Floridians have written him off. He'd have been better off to stick with being the governor.

Posted by: Carol on October 14, 2010 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

IF Meeks dropping out would ensure Rubio's defeat and NOT have a harmful affect on Sink's campaign (and other Democrats on the ballot), then it would make sense to pressure him to withdraw. As this doesn't appear to be the case, it's better to win the governorship and other state positions and lose the Senate seat.
You never know, Rubio might drive Snow and Collins to their senses...

Posted by: Doug on October 14, 2010 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK



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