Kendrick Meek’s campaign is portraying yesterday’s announcement by Gov. Charlie Crist that he will run as a “no party affiliated” candidate (he latter added that he will change his party registration to independent) as great news that left the Meek campaign in a “commanding” position in the U.S. Senate race. Most political analysts, including Steve Schale, seem to agree that the math for Meek is more straightforward than the math for either of his major rivals (he just needs to hold 80 percent of Dems and get a decent share of Independents to win.) Still, as Chris Matthews pointed out when Meek appeared on “Hardball” yesterday, with Democrats holding a 42-38-20 majority in Florida, even a generic Democrat shouldn’t be polling in the 20s. (Meek is virtually unknown outside of South Florida, which explains his poll numbers, but then again, he’s been running an intensive, statewide petition drive for a year, which theoretically, should have helped his name ID…) Meanwhile, Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning polling firm, has some not-so-pleasant news for Kendrick Meek:
“There are going to be a lot of races this year where a Republican leaning third party candidate would do Democrats a lot of good. The Florida Senate race is not going to be one of them. If Charlie Crist’s independent run has any impact on Kendrick Meek’s chances of winning it’s likely to be negative,” says a PPP blog post.
In other words, Florida Democrats may be a majority, but there’s no evidence that Charlie Crist can’t win more than 20 percent of them, at least not now. As this blogger points out, Crist during his announcement chose to highlight his most Democrat-friendly positions. He mentioned “offshore drilling,” and then immediately added “stopping it,” “protecting teachers,” and giving every Floridian the chance to choose their representation, rather than the “small clubs” of the parties. In fact, the more Republicans Crist loses, from the incompetent, corrupt Republican Party of Florida to the Jeb Bush acolytes to irrelevant George LeMieux (who looks like quite the disloyal friend) and the anonymous Lieutenant Governor, the more attractive it seems he would become to Democratic leaning independents and moderate Democrats.
And let’s just be blunt — there is a certain amount of pining for Charlie Crist, even among liberal Dems (I know a bunch of them.) Even Kos has seemed to be yearning for Crist to become a Democrat, even though he recently reluctantly admitted Meek has a shot. It can’t be based on his positions on issues — there he has been mostly a conservative Republican. Frankly, I’m not 100 percent sure what it’s about. But Meek will have to end the yearning, and end it quickly and decisively, before the Crist media blitz combined with Charlie’s warm and fuzzy image and universal name ID cement the love among what should be Kendrick’s voters.
And there’s another wrinkle: teachers. During his conference call last night responding to the Crist announce, Meek didn’t really answer my question about whether he expects to get the support of the state’s teacher’s unions, who swooned over Crist when he vetoed the teacher tenure bill SB6. Members of the Pinellas County union were present at Crist’s announcement, and I have it on good authority that at least one other major union is considering backing Crist, or splitting its endorsement. As The Caucus pointed out yesterday, most teachers will probably take an “anybody but Rubio” approach to the race, especially since Rubio is so closely associated with Jeb Bush, who most educators loathe. Their calculation will be: who can win? If by November, Meek has made a strong case that he can, he’ll get most teachers’ votes. If not? Crist gets them.
And while the pundits are focusing on the relatively small number of independents in the state (they’re about 22 percent of the electorate, but only about 18 percent of the vote in midterm/off-year elections), few people are fixating on Crist’s real potential take: Democrats, especially in the I-4 corridor (his home region) and especially if Democrats begin to believe that Rubio could get the seat, and a significant number of them vote for Crist as a hedge (there’s a whole ‘nother discussion to be had over whether people vote more “negatively,” to keep one candidate out, or “positively,” out of excitement about their candidate, but this post is already getting too long…) All of this could change, of course, and we should remember that Barack Obama’s support among Black Democrats surged only after Iowa, when it became clear that he could win in an overwhelmingly white state. Kendrick may simply need a similar show of viability to bring out his base in November. As Schale has pointed out, if he holds and turns out Democrats, he doesn’t even need to pull 1 percent of Republicans to get to 34 percent. But I think it’s fair to say that he does have to show Democrats that he can win.
Which brings us to Jeff Greene.
Greene is the billionaire dubbed by CNBC as “the man who shorted subprime,” a friend of both Mike Tyson (who was the best man at his wedding, face tattoo and all) AND Heidi Fleiss (his former platonic roommate), and a character so colorful, he may be too colorful for remarkably bland Florida (the Senators who get elected here: Bill Nelson, Bob Graham, Connie Mack … not exactly lighting the world on fire with excitement, you know?) Well, Greene is officially jumping into the Democratic primary, complete with a campaign website and a folksy introductory video in which he doesn’t run from his “interesting” past, but he does tag Meek, along with Marco Rubio, as “insiders” who have “had their chance” to fix Florida’s problems (he asks “where are the results?”)
Greene may have no shot at getting the nomination. He was a Republican in the 1980s (and even ran for office as a GOPer in San Francisco,) which in and of itself might be enough to turn off Democratic voters, and even putting aside the fact that he made his money off the collapse of the subprime mortgage market (he would argue that he saw that real estate prices would collapse, but nobody believed him because they were too drunk off the housing market, so when he took a short position, he was just being the only sane guy in the asylum) with a lot of help from Goldman-tainted hedge fund manager Frank Paulsen (Plus he once sued director Ron Howard … that’s Opey, dude, not cool … he has only been a Florida resident and voter for two years (though he used to live here and his mother lives in one of the Century Village complexes.) Despite all of that, Greene’s personal wealth could make him a big pain in the neck for Team Meek.
Greene, who has announced he won’t take special interest money or individual donations over $100 (he can afford not to) has the potential to spend so much money, Meek might find it harder to ignore him the way he’s currently ignoring his two other challengers, former Miami mayor Maurice Ferre and former North Miami mayor Kevin Burns. That’s because what Greene would presumably be doing with his money is attacking Meek and driving up his negative name ID, while also raising questions about his electability. At the end of the day, attacking Meek’s electability will be the entire point of a Greene campaign. Plus, if Greene makes enough noise, he’ll also start getting polled. Even if his primary bid fails, that’s not good for Kendrick, who might find himself having to spend money he would much rather save for the general election slug-fest, while his major opponents just keep fundraising. Meek could find himself in a position where he is forced to constantly reassert that he can win, to keep the “anybody but Rubio” (as opposed to pro-Kendrick) part of his base from fleeing to the safety of Charlie Crist. Who knows how big the ABR part is compared to the Team Meek part. Actually, we won’t know until Meek spends the $10 million or so he’ll need to in order to raise his name ID. All of this potentially transforms Meek from presumptive nominee to (leading) primary candidate, not a place you want to be if you’re the Bill Clinton certified, Congressional and statewide Democratic endorsed front-runner.
Meek friendly sources are dismissing Greene as a non-factor. But they’re also dismissing Indie Charlie as a non-factor. At some point, the Meek organization is going to have to acknowledge that there are no non-factors in a three-way, jump ball race to 34 percent.
Of course, given Meek’s demonstrated fundraising ability, and the increased probability that the national Democratic organizations (the DNC and DSCC) will spend serious money in Florida, on the premise that the formerly Republican seat is now winnable, he could theoretically solve all of these problems by pouring lots of money on them, and by rousing the Obama base with a barrage of celebrity endorsements and national support, with the help of Organizing for America, which has a strong operation in the state, left over from the Obama campaign. If that happens, that will indeed be great news for Kendrick Meek.