Politico’s Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Allen dig deeper into the delicate operation that they say began as early as this spring, in which the White House, fresh from trying to intervene to head off challenges to Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania and Michael Bennett in Colorado, tried to do the same in Florida.
Eventually, according to the piece that dropped early this morning, a reluctant Bill Clinton, who has a close personal relationship with Rep. Kendrick Meek and his family, was persuaded to try and nudge the candidate out of the U.S. Senate race. Clinton initially turned down White House appeals to step in, because he believed his friend could still pull it off…
But all that changed—and Clinton’s willingness to intervene came alive–late last month, when Clinton adviser Doug Band was contacted directly by Crist, according to sources closely familiar with the episode.
Clinton reviewed polling data on the state of the race and saw what the governor’s chances would be against Republican Marco Rubio in a head-to-head, and that it was too late for Meek to be able to do much in his own race.
After getting signals Meek was receptive to dropping out, Clinton decided to suggest to the nominee that to do so would be in the party’s best interests – especially given Rubio’s future political prospects on the national stage. However, he always let Meek make the call himself and never made an ask for him to drop out, the sources said.
The report says the White House eventually backed off, and even sent Rahm Emanuel to Florida to do a small fundraiser, and began making public shows of support via the vice president and the president (who eventually recorded a robocall for Meek.) But those of us who have been here on the ground have seen clear signs that the support from the White House was rather perfunctory, and that the D.C. team was mostly interested in the governor’s race. One more clip:
But the race remained something of a sore point at times between the White House and the Clinton camp, as the former president carved out time from his schedule to make a total of a dozen appearances on behalf of Meek. Clinton, in fact, will be appearing with Meek Monday evening in Orlando.
Those repeated trips were, in part, what made Clinton’s decision to speak to Meek about the contest – the White House knew of his discussions but didn’t initiate them – so surprising.
It was also a somewhat risky move for the former president – if it worked, the upside was the potential to blunt Rubio, who’s widely seen as a possible GOP vice presidential contender in 2012 thanks to geography and demographics.
But if it failed – as it did – the risk was the talks would become public, with potential mess, which is what happened. Florida Democrats are worried that attempted intervention to coax Meek out of the race will depress African-American turnout on Tuesday—votes that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink urgently needs against Republican Rick Scott.
At the same time, in making the move, Clinton made clear that payback for loyalty to Hillary Clinton hasn’t been his sole concern this cycle, and demonstrated that the party’s broader interests are his main priority.
Read the whole Politico story here.
I can tell you from a couple of conversations with Meek people that the Meek debacle has exacerbated tensions that already existed between the CBC and the White House, and between black Democrats close to Meek and the White House. The Clinton-Meek relationship is still solid, but I’m not sure you can say the same about Meek’s future as a Democratic candidate, since his unwillingness to make that deal — which has all-but ensured that Marco Rubio will be not just a United States Senator, but a possible vice presidential candidate opposing Obama in 2012 — has created sore points on the other side of the political equation as well.
Meek’s staying in may ultimately help elect Alex Sink governor, but it will also empower not just Rubio, who may sit out 2012 and wait for 2016, but also Jeb Bush, who with his supporters has been working to build a phalanx of black and especially Hispanic conservatives (including Florida lieutenant governor candidate Jennifer Carroll, who is being pushed by black and West Indian Bushies, and Rubio) to lay the groundwork for what I am told by solid sources is a possible presidential run of his own — especially if Sarah Palin looks like the Republican nominee.
We’ll see how this thing plays out going forward.