The Florida news cycle hit a late-night buzz Thursday after reports surfaced that former President Bill Clinton had lobbied lagging Democrat Kendrick Meek to drop out of the state’s three-way Senate race, with the goal of keeping Republican star Marco Rubio out of Washington.
The saga began when Politico published a report that said Meek had twice agreed to exit the race before changing his mind, but stated that the campaign had already chosen a date for an endorsement rally.
Crist’s campaign immediately confirmed the story, and he went on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” to say, “I had numerous phone calls with people very close to President Clinton.” On a later interview with Fox News, Crist said he spoke with “several” people at the White House, but would not say who.
Meek denied the report, first through a spokesman, and then in an interview with CNN: “The president came down to do an event for me in Orlando and St. Petersburg. We talk politics all the time. He said I heard this thing about you getting out. I said, ‘I’m not getting out.’ I said Charlie Crist needs to get out of the race. And that was that,” Meek said, adding that the suggestion he confirmed twice that he would exit the race is, “absolutely not true.” He echoed the sentiment at a press conference called at 9:30 p.m.: “The press report that’s out there from Politico is inaccurate at best,” Meek said. “No one has called me and said, ‘hey you need to get out of the race.’”
Clinton himself then told a CNN reporter, “we talked about a lot of things and I told him whatever he did was his decision,” and said that he had not spoken to the White House about the issue. A White House official told the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times that the administration was aware of the discussions and “in the position to let it play out.”
Then to complicate the matter, the New York Times reports that the Crist campaign initiated the conversation with Clinton — not the other way around — and CNN reports that Crist’s vote was on the table during the bargain: “As part of the deal, Republican-turned-independent Gov. Charlie Crist would then caucus with Democrats in the Senate.”
The bottom line is that neither Meek nor Crist wins this battle. Four days before the election, Meek looks an unsteady choice, while Crist looks slimy and driven to win at all costs — a point the Rubio camp hasn’t missed.
“Secret deals, special favors, and political kickbacks,” the Rubio campaign wrote. “That’s the problem with Washington today, not the answer. Government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers. And typical politicians shouldn’t be cutting backroom deals to hold power at all costs.”