The Florida Senate race finally got interesting for reasons other than the media’s fetish for Marco Rubio Thursday night, though it also got mighty convoluted. So here’s what we know so far…
UPDATE: Meek will be on pretty much every morning show on television tomorrow (GMA, CNN, etc etc…)
5:50 p.m. – Politico publishes a story by Ben Smith in which he states that Bill Clinton’s spokesman, Matt McKenna, confirmed on the record that Clinton aider Doug Band had served as a go-between between the former president and the Congressman to discuss his dropping out of the race to prevent Marco Rubio from winning. The story quoted three sources: two unnamed “Democratic sources” — and McKenna. It was very specific, and said Meek actually agreed to the deal twice, but backed out.
6:49 – Charlie Crist campaign issues a statement confirming the story as “accurate.” They don’t say how they know this…
7:27 – Meek campaign issues denial, saying “The article is not true. Kendrick Meek was never dropping out of this race, is never dropping out of this race, and will never drop out of this race.”
8:00 hour – then it gets crazy. Meek spokesman Doug Hoffman seems to confirm the Politico story. But campaign manager Abe Dyk denies it, and so does the candidate. Meek goes on CNN and denies it to Roland Martin. The campaign later clarifies that Hoffman “misspoke” — though what he said was pretty specific… (get all of that here.)
Charlie Crist goes on “Countdown” and says he knows the story is true because he too spoke to people in the Clinton camp. Hm… [Later, Crist confirms to CNN that he spoke to Doug Band]
8:30 – Right on cue, Michael Steele, fresh from Guam, or wherever… fires off a statement accusing Democrats of “chilling” the black vote by dissing Meek. Drudge and the right go wild.
9:30 – Meek holds a press conference, briefly carried by CNN and kind of carried by MSNBC, saying, for the umpteenth time, that he’s staying in the race.
Later, Crist goes on Greta Van Susteren’s show and says not only did he talk to Clinton people, he talked to people in the White House about Meek dropping out, too. [UPDATE: Mary Elen Klas and Beth Reinhard at the Miami Herald confirmed that the White House was aware of the talks and wanted to “let it play out” but “didn’t initiate them.”]
10:00 hour – Now come the big denials. Bill Clinton himself tells CNN’s Susan Candiotti that he did not ask Meek to drop out, but said “we talked about a lot of things and I told him whatever he did was his decision.”
By then, however, the story had been Drudged, and Republicans had run wild with the story that Big Bill was chasing the black guy out of the Florida Senate race.
Marco Rubio also pounces, saying in their internal polling, Crist is actually tied with or even losing to Meek — hence, this is a desperate Hail Mary. (A Meekworld source has told me much the same thing…)
At the same time, the Meek campaign’s talking point is very careful: “Bill Clinton never asked Meek to drop out.” They’re more elastic about whether Meek dropping out was ever discussed at all. It’s that kernel of truth that makes the story viable.
Now this, from the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent: what seems to be proof positive that the prime suspect for the source of this story (like the previous one in the WSJ) is Camp Crist:
According to a source close to Clinton, the former president’s conversations with Meek were directly initiated by Crist. He called top Clinton lawyer Doug Band and asked him if Clinton would make the appeal directly to Meek, the source tells me.
Crist’s role in trying to get Clinton to persuade Meek to consider dropping out will add to a sense of Crist’s desperation in the final days of a race that appears to be swinging towards Marco Rubio.
Now remember, the Meek people and the Crist people both clearly have friends in the Clinton camp, and they’re both furiously working their allies to make the other one look like the loser-y chump.
I’m sure Bill Clinton will be deployed fully to reinforce the idea that the story isn’t true, which technically, could be both true and untrue — meaning that Hoffman could have been correct when he said the topic of Meek getting out came up, but that Meek dismissed it. But I’ve got to wonder a couple of things:
1) How did Ben Smith get McKenna to confirm something that the Clinton camp, apparently including McKenna, now say isn’t true?
2) Did this story emerge out of Clinton world, or out of Camp Crist?
As of 10:18, Politico is standing by its headline, and reporting that:
Meek conceded that Clinton had asked him about reports that he was going to drop out, but suggested that he’d quickly ended the conversation, and he stressed that he had never actually decided to drop out.
Clinton did not dangle a job in front of Meek, who gave up a safe House seat to run for the Senate, but instead made the case that the move would advance the congressman’s future prospects, said a third Democrat familiar with the conversations.
Clinton campaigned with Meek in Florida on Oct. 19 and 20, and thought he had won Meek over. But as the week wore on, Meek lost his enthusiasm for the arrangement, spurred in part, a third Democratic source said, by his wife’s belief that he could still win the race. Clinton spoke with Meek again at week’s end, three Democrats said, and again Meek said he would drop out.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist told Fox News late Thursday that he had discussions with “several people” at the White House subsequent to the implosion of the tentative plans for rival Kendrick Meek bowing out of the Senate race.
“There were several people that I spoke with,” Crist said, adding, “I don’t think it’s appropriate” to name them.
He said there absolutely was a plan for Meek to drop out and that he himself had several discussions with Bill Clinton’s closest adviser, Doug Band.
10:59: Here’s what Bill Clinton told CNN:
(CNN) – Former President Bill Clinton says he talked to Rep. Kendrick Meek about ending his bid for Senate twice, but that he never discussed the issue with the White House.
“He was trying to determine what was the best thing for him to do,” Clinton said in an interview with CNN’s Susan Candiotti Thursday. “I knew it was being discussed, people had discussed it on and off… it was no secret.”
Clinton said Meek did not have enough money to break through in the polls.
“He was trying to think about what was the best thing for Florida,” Clinton said.
He said he thought it was important that Meek not discuss the issue with the White House, and instead do whatever he thought was right.
Clinton declined to detail his discussions with Meek or address whether he had planned to attend a joint event with Crist and Meek.
“I think he should be free to say whatever he wants to say about it,” Clinton said. “He’s the candidate, it’s his life, his choice, his decision.”
So what have we learned? We’ve learned that there seem to be people, perhaps inside the White House political team, or orbiting Bill Clinton, who wouldn’t mind seeing Meek exit the race, and they were at some point accessed by people around Charlie Crist. Somehow, the former president was moved to at least have this discussion with Meek, and you can believe whichever side you wish, about whether Meek was tempted to take a dive. But at this point, I think that denials aside, it’s pretty clear (between Hoffman’s statements and Clintons) that a discussion about Meek dropping out did take place.
As to whether there was a “deal” — that is looking shakier, although clearly there are people in Crist’s orbit who are willing to push that story to Politico, and according to Ben Smith, they’re Democrats.
I think in the end, this was a hardball play by Crist, who’s clearly upping the ante on trying to muscle Meek aside. Meek’s people bungled the initial response — badly — but they were at least able to get the former president to throw cold water on the story before it metastasized further. But the damage is already done. Both Meek and Crist look like spent candidates, firing whatever’s left in their clips at this point. I think this story will help to further erode Meek’s poll numbers (and the basics of it aren’t going away — NPR has now picked it up…) but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a slam dunk for Crist at this point either, since it plays into the notion that he’ll do anything to win.
UPDATE 2: And now, for a few words from Marc Ambinder. He tweets:
Worst kept secret in Florida politics is that WH tried to get Clinton to nudge Meek aside a while ago. Clinton told the WH to shove off then
And then adds:
This time, Clinton ran it by the WH, which didn’t object. But they didn’t want to press Meek too hard — Obama likes the guy. So does WJC
Here’s Ambinder’s full post, including his version of what may have happened in the caper and what he thinks it means for and about Democrats in Florida. (Hint: nothing good.)
Democrats in Florida dont need a circular firing squad controversy that has the potential to depress the party’s base. Meek wasn’t going to win the Senate race. But Alex Sink has a shot to win the governor’s mansion. The Democratic Party needs supporters of Charlie Crist’s and Kendrick Meek’s to show up on Tuesday. Alex SInk has the right to be incredibly angry right now.
Clinton will get more knocks than he deserves here. There’s this narrative out there that Clinton does nothing for people who didn’t support his wife. Ha! (Ask Joe Manchin if that’s true. Clinton has done basically whatever’s been asked of him, except in cases where someone was challenging a Hillary supporter in a primary. But the White House was ok with that. Anyway, Meek stuck with Hillary until June.
Meek could be — could have been — a senator four years from now when or if Bill Nelson retires. Now his reputation is going to be tarnished. And now, the Democrats look desperate…desperately afraid that they’re going to lose the Senate.
And the consensus seems to be that though it makes Crist look calculating, Meek is getting the worse end of the deal. From that Herald article:
With Meek’s standing in the race so fragile, even a rumor about him potentially leaving the race amounts to a devastating blow.
“This may not have much of an impact on the race, but it makes Meek look bad,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior analyst for the non-partisan Cook Political Report. “His own party doesn’t seem to have a lot of faith in him. He’s got to carry that around now and it will make it difficult if he wants to run for office again.”
Former Democratic state House Speaker Peter Wallace of St Petersburg, a Crist supporter, credited Meek with a strong campaign but said Clinton’s latest signals can’t be ignored.
“There’s no question at this point that based on the reports of President Clinton’s efforts and perhaps the efforts of the White House that it is a strong indication that Kendrick Meek’s campaign faces little hope of success,” he said.
Bottom line, this has been one strange Thursday …
UPDATE 3: Meek, on Today continues to deny Clinton pushed him to get out.
And the story gets the Col. Von Erickson treatment. Not the way Meek wanted to finally break onto the national scene… The right is now officially using him to try and deflect their own racialized politics onto Democrats.
UPDATE 4: On Saturday, October 29, the story gets even stranger when Kendrick Meek does an interview with the Wall Street Journal in which he says that Crist personally lobbied him on Monday to get out of the race, even offering him a gift.