Just when everyone thought he was out, Rep. Kendrick Meek pulled himself back in. After a brutal and expensive surprise primary challenge from billionaire investor Jeff Greene, the AP is reporting that Meek has won the prize he thought he had in his grasp months ago: the Democratic nomination for Senate in Florida.
With 38% of precincts reporting, Meek is leading Greene 55-32. Also-ran former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre has 6% of the vote. Meek is now set to take the stage in a general election fight where, essentially, two men are vying for the Democratic vote — Meek and Gov. Charlie Crist, who has run hard for Democratic support since abandoning the GOP primary against Marco Rubio.
Before we turn our attention to uphill climb Meek now faces against Crist and Rubio, we should take a moment to note the uphill climb he just completed. Meek was all but written off after Greene’s barrage of negative advertising left the relatively unknown Meek down in the polls. But Meek battled back, taking on Greene with tough rhetoric in debates and pulling in help from powerful friends like President Clinton and President Obama. He ran negative ads of his own and likely was overjoyed as media attention quickly deflated the regular-guy image the flamboyant Greene tried to create for himself. Just as he did early in the primary cycle — when his fundraising prowess cleared the field early — Meek has shown that he is ready and willing to fight for the nomination.
Unfortunately for him, Meek just got what he’s been wishing for.Almost no one expects Meek to win the whole thing in November. The best that most observers say he can hope for is the role of spoiler, ending Crist’s attempts to remake himself as a centrist Democrat and pulling off just enough of the base Democratic vote to hand Rubio a win in the end.
But Meek proved tonight he can overcome a candidate with more money and a lead in the polls. In his acceptance speech tonight, Meek characterized the general election fight as a battle he can win — largely because he’s the only real Democrat running.
“I am running against two conservative candidates that have similar records,” Meek told supporters tonight. Meek said he was the only candidate carrying traditional Democratic values into the fall.
“I am the only candidate who supports a woman’s right to choose and equal pay for equal work, has fought against privatizing Social Security, and will repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans and cut taxes for the middle class,” he said in a statement released by his campaign after the night was over. In his speech to supporters, he pointed out a number of issues where he has differed from both Crist and Rubio, including public support for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (both Crist and Rubio opposed her nomination, though Crist supported Justice Elena Kagan’s nomination after becoming an independent.)
The TPM Poll Average shows Meek running a distant third in the race. He’s got just 16.8% of the vote. Crist leads Rubio at the top of the contest, 36.0-33.8.
Full coverage of the race here.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with quotes from Meek’s speech.
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