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Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-FL, and former President Clinton in Orlando on Oct. 20. (AP)

Meek Disputes Reports That Clinton Tried To Get Him Out Of Fla. Senate Race

Oct 29, 2010

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Rep. Kendick Meek, the Democratic nominee for Florida's open Senate seat, has denied a report first published in Politico stating that he was urged by former President Bill Clinton to drop out of the race and that he had agreed — twice — before reconsidering.

Clinton's reported efforts were based on the widely held belief that Meek, an African-American congressman from Miami, is hopelessly mired in third place against GOP frontrunner Marco Rubio and Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-Independent who is running second. If Democrats are going to deny Rubio the seat, the argument went, the opposition should be united, and it wouldn't be with both Crist and Meek in the race. And Crist had a much better chance of winning than Meek.

The topic came up on NPR's Morning Edition this, um, morning, in a conversation national political correspondent Mara Liasson and I had with hosts Steve Inskeep and Mary Louise Kelly. Mara said that "just the news of these discussions worries some Democrats that African-American voters could be discouraged from participating in Florida." I said that "black voters may not only be discouraged, they may be angry." You can listen to the conversation here:

Clinton, of course, has done this kind of work before. He tried to get Rep. Joe Sestak to drop his primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) earlier this year. Sestak, as it turned out, would hear nothing of it, and in fact went on to unseat Specter in the May primary.

But Meek is (1) the Democratic nominee, having beaten back a multi-millionaire newcomer to win the primary, and (2) black, and that adds a new wrinkle. With 37 Senate races this year — totaling 73 major-party candidates (South Dakota's GOP Sen. John Thune is running unopposed) — only three are African-American. I have as of yet not seen any negative reaction in the black community about Clinton's efforts, but Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee and an African-American himself, jumped on it.

"If we have learned anything this election cycle, it's that voters demand the right to choose candidates for themselves, not by a political establishment seeking to make those decisions from on high. President Clinton's actions to have Kendrick Meek withdraw from the campaign sends a chilling signal to all voters, but especially African Americans. One can only imagine the response if Republican leadership tried to force out of the race — in the 11th hour — a qualified black candidate like Kendrick Meek."

Black turnout is key for Democratic hopes this year. And in Florida, while it may not be enough to put Meek over the top, it could be crucial in the tight gubernatorial race between Alex Sink (D) and Rick Scott (R). Still, though reports about Clinton and Meek may discourage or anger some African-Americans, there is no firm indication that black voters would be less inclined to show up at the polls were Meek to drop out.

The Liberal Minority blog says this has nothing to do with race:

"Meek is giving the Republicans this election and is a bad politician. The guy with the lowest support should concede but he is will cost democrats a future vote in the senate."

For his part, Meek went on TV this morning to say that he never gave any consideration of dropping out, that he in fact is not dropping out, and the suggestion he do so came not from Clinton but from Crist himself.

And Tim Kaine, the Democratic National Chairman, was on NPR's Tell Me More today and insisted that the party remains solidly behind Meek's candidacy. (Update at 11:30 a.m. ET: The Tell Me More conversation will be posted here later today.)

As I said earlier, the topic came up on Morning Edition. We also talked at length about other important stories in these last days of the midterm campaign. Here's the whole discussion:

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