Does Meek’s Primary Win Hurt Crist — And Help Rubio?

It’s possible that Kendrick Meek’s win in the Florida Democratic Senate primary could be good news for Republican Marco Rubio. And this is not because of any deficiencies on Meek’s part. Instead, it’s the fact that he’s a much better Dem candidate than his primary rival, businessman Jeff Greene, and could end up winning too many Democratic votes and splitting the anti-Rubio vote with the other big player in the race, the ex-Republican and now independent Gov. Charlie Crist.

Keep in mind that it is widely believed that Crist would potentially caucus with the Democrats if he won the Senate race. As a result, he has soaked up a lot of Democratic support in many polls throughout the state — not to mention the cash of Dem fundraisers — effectively overshadowing both Meek and Greene as the true opponent to Rubio. But of course, in order to caucus with the Senate Dems, Crist would have to get elected to the Senate first, and would have to hold onto his independent and Republican voters while simultaneously grabbing a lot of the Dems. And it seems intuitive that Meek, a Congressman who has supported Obama’s agenda in Congress, would be more appealing to Dem voters than Greene, the hard-partying businessman who previously ran for Congress as a Republican in the 1980s.Crist has also been raising money with the help of Democrats — such as one very interesting example, former Hillary Clinton pollster Mark Penn.

But Meek’s unlikely to let Crist simply turn himself into the race’s de facto Dem. As Jonathan Martin posted last night, a sign at Meek’s victory party told the story of what his pitch will be to win back the party faithful: “the REAL DEM.”

The TPM Poll Average for the race shows Crist ahead of Rubio and Meek by 36.0%-33.8%-16.8%. But if Greene had been the nominee, the average shows Crist doing a bit better, and Greene scoring lower than Meek did: 38.0%-33.9%-15.9%.

As another data point, the latest survey from Public Policy Polling (D) gives Rubio an edge over Crist of only one point if Greene was the nominee, with Rubio leading Crist 37%-36% and Greene at 13%. But with Meek as the nominee, Rubio’s lead extends to 40%-32%-17%. As PPP’s Tom Jensen wrote: “As Democrats have gotten to know Meek over the course of the primary campaign they’ve generally decided they like him and that’s cut into Crist’s support for the general election.”

In addition, a Mason-Dixon poll from two weeks ago showed Crist leading Rubio and Greene by 39%-38%-12%, but Rubio leading Crist and Meek by 38%-33%-18%. And a Rasmussen poll from the same time had Crist leading Rubio and Greene by 37%-36%-20%, but Rubio leading Crist and Meek by 38%-33%-21%.

On the other hand, a Quinnipiac poll from last week showed no significant difference. With Meek as the Dem, Crist leads the three-way race by 39%-32%-16%. With Greene as the Dem, Crist leads by a nearly identical 40%-32%-15%. And an Ipsos poll from two weeks ago showed just the opposite: Crist lead Rubio and Meek by 32%-30%-19%, but led Rubio and Greene by an even stronger 33%-29%-17%.

Before the polls closed on Tuesday, a Republican source spun the expected Meek win to TPM: “There is no doubt that a Meek win tonight is good news for Republicans. There’s a reason the DSCC never weighed in for Meek in any significant way in this primary, unlike Pennsylvania where they spent over a million dollars for Specter – because they saw the same polls the Republicans did. And the polls showed that the only way they could win the general is if Meek was not their nominee and they had an excuse to get behind Charlie Crist.”

In response, a Dem source insisted to us that it’s Republicans who are in trouble. “Republicans are in meltdown mode here. They were told by Jeb Bush not to go in for Crist. They did it anyway, and it got them in serious trouble, they have egg all over their face with this,” the source said, also pointing to Crist’s big advantages in cash on hand: “He’s a strong, aggressive star candidate and politician, who if he wins will walk away into the United States Senate as a Democrat and caucus with the Dems.”

The source added: “Anyone who says that a Meek win is good for Republicans is dead wrong.”

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