An explosive new story from Politico‘s Ben Smith has led to some serious sniping between the two men trailing Republican Marco Rubio in the Florida Senate race. Smith reports that Bill Clinton orchestrated a deal with Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek (the guy currently running a distant third to Rubio) to drop out of the race and endorse independent candidate Charlie Crist, the guy running second.
The deal could have given Crist a real shot at beating Rubio and, therefore, moderates and Democrats a chance at stopping Rubio’s rapid rise in the GOP. Rubio has been a conservative darling of the GOP ever since he pushed Crist out of the Republican primary and into his current independent bid. Most say Rubio will be a major player on the Republican scene if, as polls currently suggest, he cruises to victory Tuesday.
All that could have been different if Clinton’s deal had happened. But, as Smith reports it, after first warming to the idea of dropping out — things went so far that a unity rally was planned for Oct. 26 — Meek “lost his enthusiasm for the arrangement, spurred in part…by his wife’s belief that he could still win the race.”
Now comes the sniping. Crist confirms Smith’s account of things. Meek says it’s not true. That’s led to a new war of words between the two men while Rubio continues his march toward certain victory.“While this story is accurate, the Governor’s focus is on uniting common-sense Democrats, independents, and Republicans behind his campaign because he is the one candidate who can defeat Tea Party extremist Marco Rubio and deliver bipartisan results for Florida in Washington,” Crist’s spokesperson Danny Kanner said in a statement.
Meek’s campaign said essentially the opposite.
“The article is not true. Kendrick Meek was never dropping out of this race, is never dropping out of this race, and will never drop out of this race,” Meek’s manager, Abe Dyk, said in his own statement. “Kendrick Meek will always stand up for the middle class and will not leave Floridians a choice between two lifelong conservative Republicans who only stand with the special interests. Kendrick is the Democratic nominee so if anyone should drop out, it’s Charlie Crist..”
The Florida Democratic Party didn’t weigh in on the veracity of Smith’s story, but heaped praise on Meek.
“Because Kendrick Meek is the leader we need in the U.S. Senate to fight for us, the Florida Democratic Party is proud to continue fighting to elect Kendrick Meek to the U.S. Senate so he can continue working for everyday Floridians and to bring jobs to the Sunshine State,” said Eric Jotkoff, spokesperson for the party.
In the hours since the story dropped, more reporters are reporting the same thing Smith did.
“I have confirmed Bill Clinton tried to talk Kendrick Meek into dropping out of FLA Senate race to help Crist,” tweeted National Journal‘s Major Garrett. “It didn’t work.”
Shortly after Dyk’s statement was released to the press, Meek’s campaign announced a press conference scheduled for 9:30 PM in Miami Gardens.
At the press conference, Meek said he was not dropping out of the race — and said any reports of discussions between him and Clinton about quitting were “inaccurate at best.”
“President Clinton did not ask me to drop out of the race,” Meek said. He added that “no one” from the DNC other Democratic organization “called me and asked me to get out of the race.”
“It’s very important that everyone understands I am in this race until Tuesday at 7 PM central time,” Meek said.
Rubio’s senior strategist, Todd Harris, offered his own statement on the Politico story:
“Charlie Crist truly will say and do anything to get elected and hold on to power. Secret deals to trade away principles for power is already the problem in Washington, it’s not the solution. This is simply politics as usual which is exactly what voters across the country are emphatically rejecting this election.”