The administration has been playing their cards very close to the chest in the Florida Senate race to replace appointed Sen. George LeMieux (R).
Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) has been sidelined in recent weeks as his prospects for garnering the nomination declined and his chances for winning in the general election became all but nonexistent.
After months as the front runner, Meek’s billionaire primary opponent, Jeff Geene, has closed the gap in the polls. As of May, Meek held a 45-point lead over any challenger. A Quinnipiac poll less than 12 weeks later shows Greene sprinting ahead of Meek with a 10-point lead.
The Democratic primary is close enough to be a tough call. While Greene has emerged with the lead, a full 46 percent of likely Democratic primary voters remain undecided. More than half of those polled do not know enough about either candidate to form a positive or negative opinion about them.
Furthermore, Gov. Charlie Crist (I) is leading in almost every poll heading toward the general election and has intimated his intention to caucus with the Democrats in the Senate. Since this revelation, Obama’s support for either Democratic nominee has been tacit at best.
So what did Meek do? Did he demurely attribute his faltering Senate run to a stacked year for Democrats and quietly extend his support for the quasi-Democrat Gov. Crist, positioning himself for a quiet appointment in the Obama Administration? Precisely the opposite; Meek has publically requested that the White House reaffirm its support for him at an August 18th Democratic fundraiser in Miami.
Meek’s goose looks to be well cooked, so why is he ungraciously spending borrowed political capital seeking the president’s support?
One answer may be that the Congressional Black Caucus, rattled by the recent ethics investigations of two of its members and the loss of senior House member Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D) in Tuesday’s Michigan primary, is flexing its muscle. The president has shown lackluster public support for the Caucus during its member’s investigations and declined to support Rep. Kilpatrick through her tough primary fight. Florida is where the CBC draws a line in the sand.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D), a Florida Democrat and member of the CBC, told Politico last week that they “might not work for Obama’s re-election” if he does not show more public commitment to campaign for Black Democrats. The tenured California Rep. Barbara Lee (D) expects “total support” for Rep. Meek.
The heat may be getting to the White House. Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) sent out a letter supporting Meek, and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will host a private fundraiser in a Washington DC residence on Monday for the Senate candidate.
Obama has a political calculation to make in Florida. Christ is polling slightly ahead of his conservative challenger and Tea Party favorite, Marco Rubio, and Democrats have been flirting with openly supporting Crist. The president will need all the support he can garner in the 112th Congress; his party’s majorities are set to be dramatically reduced after November. Meek polls a distant third behind both Crist and Rubio.
If Greene were to win the nomination, the decision becomes much easier for Democrats who would then openly support Crist. However, Greene may siphon off enough independent-leaning Democrats (due to his unlimited ability to maintain a high level of visibility through ad buys) to secure the Senate seat for Rubio. The last two polls have shown Greene taking anywhere from one to four points away from Christ.
If Meek wins the primary, he will not capture the support of as many independents as Greene, but he secures the African-American vote and the continued support of the CBC for Obama.
If Meek loses in the primary (let alone the general election) with Obama’s support, it will reinforce the impression that his endorsement is toxic, and the best help that the president can lend to a Democratic candidate is to stay away. Not a great political message to send to your allies ahead of the predicted trouncing that is coming the Democrats’ way in November.
Which is more important to the president: Florida’s open Senate seat or the support of the black Congressional leadership? The loss of either could prove fatal to the president’s post-midterm agenda, but sitting this election out could cost Obama both.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org