Political Hay

In for the Duration

The Florida Senate roster is fixed and Kendrick Meek isn't going any place.

By 10.18.10

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TAMPA -- After some truly remarkable twists and turns, and some political cross-dressing on the part of one candidate, the Florida Senate race has taken on some clarity. The candidates have been defined. The polls are consistent week to week. The undecided have become harder and harder to find. Just as well, with only two weeks left before Election Day and early voting underway.

This situation may be boring for some political writers, who've recently tried to gin up a little heavy breathing about the possibility of the Democratic candidate in this race, Congressman Kendrick Meek of Miami, dropping out of the race and supporting independent Governor Charlie Crist. A lot of column inches have been devoted to this highly unlikely event since Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal floated the idea in a speculative piece Oct. 8. Crist and his campaign, who think this is swell, have tried to egg the idea on. But don't hold your breath.

The drop out reasoning goes in this wise: Conservative former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio holds a large lead over both Crist and Meek -- the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Rubio with 45 percent, Crist 28.8, and Meek 21. Rubio is ahead because he's essentially running against two Democrats who are splitting the left to center-left vote. Crist alone would be competitive against Rubio, the dropout crowd says, and some polls confirm this. So better for Meek to quit the race and back Crist in order to prevent a real conservative from winning the Senate seat.

There's a good deal questionable in this line of reasoning, beginning with the assumption that all Meek voters would automatically switch their allegiance to Crist if Meek were no longer in the race. Let's look at this one. The first African-American state-wide candidate, who has been campaigning for this seat since before the trash from the Obama inauguration events was cleaned up, who was the first state-wide candidate in Florida to qualify to run by petition, and who beat a really rich white guy in the Democratic primary who spent a ton of his own money, is to be asked now to bugger off because this other white guy has a better chance of beating a Republican most Democrats don't like.

Nah. First of all, Meek's presence on the ballot would help black turnout, which would be beneficial to Democratic candidates across the state. Stiffing Meek in this way would do short and long-term damage to Florida Democrats' relations with blacks, the party's most reliable constituency. Many blacks would not show up on Election Day to vote for Crist or for other Democrats. And they would resent the party's treatment of Meek for a long time. Result: Rubio wins anyway, and the Democratic Party of Florida is badly damaged.

 Meek has said he won't drop out. And unlike Crist, who can almost always be relied on to say one thing and then do something else, Meek almost always does what he says he's going to do. Meek truly dislikes Crist, and with good reason. It's almost impossible to imagine Meek supporting Crist.

Until April 30 Crist was a Republican trying to compete with Rubio by claiming he was the most conservative guy on the peninsula. After Rubio built up a two to one poll lead over Crist in the primary, Crist bolted the Republican Party saying it had become too conservative for him. He switched all his positions on issues from left to right and started poaching Meek's supporters.

Crist's campaign, based on the notion that he will take the best ideas of both parties, has fetched in a few Florida Democratic household names and perhaps a third of Democratic voters say they will vote for him. But in the past two months his standing in the polls has deteriorated as more voters see him as a rank opportunist and Rubio's conservative campaign is better known. My friend, retired University of South Florida political science professor and popular local talking head Darryl Paulson, calls Crist the Goldilocks candidate. "Crist says Rubio is too far to the right, Meek is too far to the left, but I'm just right."

It's not working. Increasingly Florida voters have Crist pegged not as a politician with principled moderate positions, but as a guy who wants so badly to be a U.S. Senator that he will take whatever positions the latest polls tell him he should take.

Two weeks can be a long time in politics. Something may well change in the Florida Senate race. But the lineup isn't likely to. It appears in the Senate race the Florida Democratic Party will have to try to beat one good Republican with one weak Democrat and one former RINO who will impersonate a Democrat (as he was impersonating a Republican less than six months ago) for only as long as he sees the need to.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.