Clinton under fire for involvement in Florida Senate race

Mike Riggs Contributor
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When former President Bill Clinton pulls his foot out of the Florida swamps, he may find that he’s missing some digits.

After intervening in elections across the country, from attempting to sell Joe Sestak on a White House job in exchange for allowing Sen. Arlen Specter to run unchallenged, to campaigning in Rhode Island for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate Pres. Obama has refused to endorse, Clinton made his way to Florida.

Once there, he hit the campaign trail with Rep. Kendrick Meek, a South Florida congressman running for Republican George LeMieux’s Senate seat against Gov. Charlie Crist, now divorced from the GOP and running as an independent, and Republican Marco Rubio, a Florida state legislator.

But as in the cases of Pennsylvania and Colorado, it appears that Clinton came to Florida not to help a Democrat, but to derail one. Now the situation has blown up in the former president’s face, with both Rubio and RNC Chairman Michael Steele spinning Clinton’s dealings as one of many “secret deals to trade away principles for power.”

According to Politico’s Ben Smith, Clinton encouraged Meek last week to drop out of the Senate race and endorse Crist, who has moved left-of-center since leaving the Florida GOP and is also polling higher than Meek.

Clinton aides told Smith that Meek agreed twice last week to drop out of the race and support Crist. The move could possibly send Democrats to Crist; enough even to decimate Rubio’s lead. Meek eventually rejected the offer. Since then, his campaign has aggressively insisted that Meek is in the race to the end.

According to the Washington Post, Crist approached the Clinton camp directly to ask for assistance in pushing Meek out of the race.

Dropping out of the race would present serious problems for Florida Democrats. Early and absentee voting are well under way, and Meek, who hasn’t made much penetration across the state, would still be hard-pressed to get the message out in far-flung Democratic strongholds. Likewise, Meek’s absence from the race could lead to a reduced Democratic turnout that would in turn hinder the efforts of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, and the state party’s plans for redistricting.

Meek denied the allegations in a 9:30 p.m. press conference. “The president–President Clinton–did not ask me to drop out of the race,” he said. “I am keeping my word and I have more democracy behind my candidacy than any other candidate in Florida.”

Meek also denied claims made by Crist that the governor was party to his talks with Clinton. “President Clinton is a friend of mine, we talk all the time, and I find it interesting that a man who did two rallies in the vote-rich I4 corridor would turn around and tell me to get out of the race. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

“There was no negotiations about me getting out of the race. That’s the bottom line,” Meek said.

Rubio’s campaign sent out an e-mail shortly after the news broke, attacking Crist and Clinton — though the latter isn’t named — for interfering in Meek’s campaign.

“Charlie Crist truly will say and do anything to get elected and hold on to power,” read an e-mail from Rubio advisor Todd Harris. “Secret deals to trade away principles for power is already the problem in Washington, it’s not the solution. This is simply politics as usual which is exactly what voters across the country are emphatically rejecting this election.”

Harris writes in the e-mail that “as of today, more than 1.7 million Floridians have already voted — approximately 1/3 of all likely voters (4.8 million Floridians voted in 2006, the last midterm election),” and that among “those who have already voted,” Rubio’s internal polling shows Meek beating Crist.

In a brief statement e-mailed out by the Republican National Committee, RNC Chairman Michael Steele chided Clinton for intervening in Florida’s Senate race.

“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,” reads Steele’s statement.

“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.”