With polls out of the Florida U.S. Senate race averaging a 16 percentage point lead for GOP-nominee Marco Rubio, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is canceling $4 million worth of TV pro-Rubio television ads in an effort to focus energy on tighter races in Pennsylvania, California and Illinois. GOP party leaders are comfortable with Rubio, feeling that he should easily coast into victory on November 2nd.
Current Governor and former-Republican-turned-Independent Charlie Crist appears unable to gain any momentum against Rubio in 2nd place, polling on average less than 30 percent. In recent polls, Crist is actually losing steam. Much of the problem comes from Crist’s inability to draw more than 40% of registered Democrats.
However, despite struggling to get beyond 20 percent in most surveys, Democratic nominee Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL) continues to campaign hard, stubbornly fending off rumors that he is pulling out of the race as part of a deal with Crist. Meek’s campaign draws some comfort from polling data showing half or more of Democratic voters supporting their nominee. Still, Crist’s presence in the race creates massive complications for Meek, who could have had a serious shot at winning against Rubio in a two-way scenario.
The four-term Congressman gave up a fairly safe seat in his Miami-Dade County home district to pursue an ambitious statewide run as the electoral landscape looked very promising in 2009 following the election of President Barack Obama. As a former state trooper and child once diagnosed with dyslexia, Meek has experienced a meteoric political rise since 1994 when he was elected to the Florida State House, then to the State Senate four years later. He took on former Governor Jeb Bush in an education fight and stand-off over affirmative action in the state, staging a sit-in till he finally got a gubernatorial audience. He won his Congressional seat in 2002 and hasn’t looked back since.
With polling odds stacked against him, Meek is attempting an eleventh-hour game change similar to his stunning upset of primary contender and subprime mortgage billionaire Jeff Greene in August. He was the first Senate candidate in state history to qualify for the ballot by petition, collecting 150,000 signatures, a fact that is driving Meek to see this through till Election Day. “My faith drives me to believe, keep working hard, keep delivering a truthful message and something good is going to happen,” said Meek during a post-debate editorial interview with the Daytona Beach News Journal. “A lot of minds are going to be changed and a lot of folks who decided not to vote are going to decide to vote. That’s what we’re banking on.”
“Part of the problem here, though, is that not many people were watching the debate,” admits one political observer asking not to be identified due to their connection with all three campaigns. “Most people were watching the Tampa Bay Rays fight for the penant that night. That’s unfortunate because the Congressman did really well, came out swinging and pushed some good lines. So, maybe he makes a point here that in two weeks people will start paying closer attention. It’s a brave gamble.”
That gamble could play out like this: nearly 12% of likely voters still appear undecided. 10% of African Americans are undecided, and Meek has to find a way to break Crist’s popularity amongst many Blacks in the state. Rubio’s unfavorable ratings are still high and could translate into some folks making a last minute switch to Crist or Meek. And, the fact remains that Democrats appear more comfortable with Meek than with Crist, to the point that they would consider sitting the race out if Meek were to withdraw.
As Rubio moves into the final stretch, looking to close the deal and inviting former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on the stump, Meek is seen on the ground doing what he’s always done best: shaking hands and approaching likely voters with one-on-one zeal. Meek loves the stump, revels in the authenticity that is his candidacy. It’s what got him this far and he’s convinced it will help propel him into history fifteen days from now.