St. Petersburg, Florida — Due to the intense media coverage, it’s easy to think that the only race of consequence for the Florida U.S. Senate seat is the one between Republican Marco Rubio and Independent Charlie Crist. Conventional wisdom says that the next U.S. Senator from Florida will be one of these two prominent candidates. After all, the average Floridian is already very familiar with the media-savvy governor. We’ve also been barraged with a heavy diet of the former Florida Speaker of the House. It’s as if the Florida Democratic Senate primary is a mere after-thought.
But don’t count them out yet. If U.S. Representative Kendrick Meek and the Florida Democratic Party have it their way, that will soon change.
Meet Kendrick Meek, the Unknown Candidate
Elected into office at the age of 27, this four-term U.S. Congressman from Miami has been heralded as one of the young leaders of the Democratic Party. The only Floridian serving on the House Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Meek served in the Florida House from 1995 to 1998, and the Florida Senate from 1999-2002. Despite that strong resume, just about every national poll on the Florida senate race has Meek coming in a distant third behind both Rubio and Crist in the general election. With months of toiling in the shadows of Governor Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio, Meek has struggled to effectively interject himself into the debate. And just when there was a glimmer of hope for Meek with Gov. Crist dropping out of the Republican Primary and causing Meek’s fund-raising numbers to increase, he found himself facing a new challenger in the Democratic primary — billionaire Jeff Greene. Worth upward of $1.3 billion and willing to finance his own campaign, Greene joins former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre and former North Miami Mayor Kevin Burns in a primary race that is suddenly competitive.
While Meek is currently the clear favorite in the Democratic primary, the addition of Greene presents a new set of challenges for Meek. Greene, who made billions betting against the housing bubble, is running as a political outsider against the established U.S. congressman. This is a popular position to hold in a political climate hostile to perceived insiders. Greene is the anti-insider. Famous for choosing Mike Tyson as his best man at his 2008 wedding, and housing ex-Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss after her stint in prison, Greene has the resources to purchase TV commercials and large ads. This plays directly against the perceived weakness of Meek: his relative obscurity. This was underscored in an April 15 Quinnipiac University poll in which 73 percent of Florida voters polled said that they do not know enough about Meek to either have a favorable or unfavorable view of him.
Meek Lost Teacher Support to Charlie Crist
Additionally, Meek seems to have lost some teacher support to Crist. While Meek was initially the clear choice among Florida’s 162,000 teachers, Crist recently sided with educators by vetoing a controversial teacher-reform bill passed by the Florida Legislature. As a State Senator in 2002, Meek sponsored a popular class-size amendment that greatly favored teachers, but it appears that the timing of the recent Crist veto has stolen any momentum. Adding insult to injury, a recent Rasmussen poll shows that the independent Crist has apparently taken a chunk of the Democratic vote away from Meek. The poll shows Rep. Meek with 17 percent of the vote, which is an 8-point decline since March while conversely, Crist has experienced a 16-point jump. This leaves Rep. Meek with the clear need to re-focus his Florida Senate campaign.
These next several weeks will be pivotal for Meek, who must use the Florida U.S. Senate Democratic primary on August 24 to introduce himself to the people of Florida. As a registered Florida Democrat, I believe Meek needs to find a way to connect with the average Florida voter. He must find his message. Currently, there is little known about Rep. Meek, his background, accomplishments and political philosophy. Though Meek should win the Democratic Primary with the support of the Florida Democratic establishment, he will not have a chance in November unless the people of Florida know him well enough to stand behind him. Rep. Meek must transform himself from an unknown candidate to a voice for the average Floridian. Stay tuned.
St. Pete Times
Real Clear Politics
Kendrick Meek Office