Florida's Meek embraces Obama in Senate race 

By Susan Ferrechio Chief Congressional Correspondet

While many Democratic candidates have steered clear of President Obama and his low approval ratings this campaign season, Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., has tried to salvage his Senate bid by making a bee-line for the president when he visited Florida last week.

Meek, who is in a tight race against billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene for the Democratic spot on the ballot in Tuesday's primary, leads by 10 points in the latest poll, released Monday by Quinnipiac University.

"Kendrick Meek's path to victory goes through having a large number of Democratic supporters and the president is the most popular Democrat in the country and Florida, so his support absolutely went a long way toward helping Kendrick Meek," said Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale.

Still, Meek and Greene are far behind both Gov. Charlie Crist, running as an independent, and Republican nominee Marco Rubio. A series of recent polls showed Crist and Rubio locked in a close race, with whoever emerges on the Democratic side of the ballot stuck in the mid-teens.

An oddity of the race has Rubio polling better against Crist -- the sitting governor who was rejected by GOP voters in the primary -- if Meek is the third candidate in the race.

Obama came to Florida last week to raise money for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, who, unlike Meek, went out of her way to distance herself from a president whose approval ratings have sunk to the mid-40s.

"Few other Democrats wanted face time with President Obama when he came down here," University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith said."Most notably among them was Alex Sink. Her handlers did a marvelous job not allowing any photo opportunities with President Obama. I don't think there was even a shot of them on the stage at the same time. Certainly not a hug."

But Meek, who was trailing in the polls just weeks ago in part because voters knew nothing about him, had little to lose by embracing Obama.

He not only accepted a public hug from the president, he helped turn the fundraising visit for Sink into a campaign stop for his Senate bid.

The visit from Obama and an appearance by former President Clinton days earlier, say state political experts, gave a critical boost to Meek's name recognition and could generate enthusiasm among young and black voters, two groups more likely to favor Meek than Greene.

Meek hadn't anticipated a tough battle to win the Democratic nomination. Greene, who earned some of his wealth from the mortgage meltdown that devastated Florida's real estate market, jumped into the race just four months ago, injecting nearly $23 million of his own money and catching Meek's lackluster campaign off guard.

He portrayed the four-term Meek as a Washington insider who has done little for constituents. Meek in recent weeks has hit back hard, labeling Greene, a former California Republican candidate, as a meltdown mogul who lacks strong ties to Florida.

"They both exposed every wart each other has, and the focus has been more on character and corruption, rather than on other issues," University of South Florida political science professor Sue McManus said. "The question is, to what degree are people offended by the amount of money Greene spent?"

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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Susan Ferrechio

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