How Florida's Forgotten Democrat Could Win the Senate Race

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Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek (D-FL) hands a box of voter petitions to Melinda Noble at the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections office on March 29, 2010 in Doral, Florida.

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That's a subtle shot at Crist, who is now racing to the left to try to siphon away Democratic votes. The governor spent most of last year trying unsuccessfully to impersonate a committed Obama-trashing, Reagan-worshipping conservative Republican. He did his best to deny his previous support for Obama's stimulus bill and downplayed his previous support for cap and trade and other aggressive actions against global warming. Now he's trying to re-reinvent himself, going so far as to pursue the AFL-CIO endorsement for the first time in his long career (Meek ultimately got it). Crist is a sweet guy and an underrated governor, especially on environmental issues, but his recent ideological contortions have been dizzying: vetoing a school reform bill he once supported; backing Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination after opposing Sotomayor for no plausible, non-political reason; saying he saw no reason to change the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on a Monday and then saying he was "inclined" to support a repeal that Thursday. As Meek pointed out in one of his less-than-subtle shots at Crist, at least Specter admitted he was changing his stripes to try to win an election.

"People want leadership, and it's so obvious that Charlie will say anything to get elected," Meek says. "That's going to be his poison pill. At least with Rubio, you know where he stands. He's wrong, but you know. With Charlie, you have no idea."

The rap on Meek for the past year has been that he's a "base" candidate. That's probably code for "black" candidate — he would be the first African-American Senator south of the Mason-Dixon Line since Reconstruction — but whatever. In a three-way race in which Democrats are 42% of the electorate and growing, while Republicans are 36% and independents are 22%, Meek will win if he holds his base. And that base is quite loyal in general elections; pundits said the Latinos and condo bubbies who supported Hillary Clinton would never vote for Obama, but they did. Crist's only path to victory is to convince Democrats that Meek is unelectable. But after opposing health care reform, dismissing Obama as a one-term President and declaring that "my commitment to the values and principles of the Republican Party will always be the foundation on which my decisions are based," he's going to have a tough time winning them over in November. Crist may be leading in the polls, but he's got no party organization, and when Meek and Rubio start running ads reminding voters about his shameless flip-floppery, he'll probably fade.

Where would that leave Meek? He should be able to fend off a primary challenge from the mega-rich but mega-problematic Jeff Greene — who had Mike Tyson as the best man at his wedding, let Heidi Fleiss live in his house for a while, only moved to Florida and registered as a Democrat in 2008 and made most of his money investing in credit-default swaps that paid off when homeowners couldn't pay their mortgages. But Meek will still need to establish himself as the credible alternative to Rubio. He's got a larger base — Democrats have a 750,000-voter advantage — though unlike Rubio, he hasn't proven that he can nail it down.

Meek acknowledged that while driving my car from the restaurant to another condo event. (Ever the trooper, the first thing he did after squeezing into my driver's seat was remove the old parking stubs from my dashboard; he explained that their reflection in the windshield could impair visibility.) A few minutes later, he passed a beat-up Grand Marquis, with a bungee cord holding together a mutilated bumper emblazoned with a "Rubio for Senate" sticker. "How on earth could that guy have a Rubio sticker on his car?" Meek joked. But then he turned serious: "Look, the right has made its decision. The left is going to make its decision in the fall. And they're going to know who's been with them all the way."

If the Democrats vote for the Democrat, that forgotten candidate will sneak into the Senate.

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