Kendrick Meek's 26-point trouncing of billionaire Jeff Greene in the Florida Democratic Senate primary last night gives his campaign a much-needed boost. For a while there, his path to the nomination appeared deeply imperiled. Though he had the backing of the Democratic establishment, he faced an opponent who outspent him five-to-one and unleashed a barrage of attack ads depicting him as a corrupt career politician. Until the final weeks of the primary contest, Greene was polling neck-and-neck with Meek, a congressman from Miami.
With this convincing victory, though, Meek just got a fresh jolt. You can already see a more positive narrative emerging in the postprimary coverage: how he fended off a robust challenger, how he's made history as the first black Senate nominee in the state. That said, Meek still faces long odds. He now faces two opponents, independent Gov. Charlie Crist and Republican nominee Marco Rubio, with much higher profiles. He remains stuck in third place in the polls. And he's still unknown to most Floridians. So the celebratory spirit in his campaign will surely be short-lived.
The real loser last night, though, was Crist. Had Greene pulled off an upset, Democrats would likely have fled the billionaire in droves and headed straight into the arms of the governor. Greene was simply laden with way too much baggage (including Mike Tyson and Heidi Fleiss connections) for many in the party. Crist was drawing more Democratic support than Meek, according to some polls. And the buzz in the state was that many Democrats were simply waiting for an excuse to back the governor, whose centrist governing style appeals to them. A Greene victory would have provided that.
Well, no such luck for Crist. He now faces a real contender on the Democratic side, one whom many in the party establishment will feel obligated to support (Meek got a huge boost from no less a stalwart than Bill Clinton, who campaigned with him in the final week before the primary). The party can't afford to appear lukewarm in its backing for Meek, given the need to mobilize African-American turnout in the general election.
Some Democratic strategists have argued to me in recent months that despite Meek's lackluster performance so far, the party's rank and file would gradually solidify behind him as they paid more attention to the Senate contest and got to know him. A just-released PPP poll seems to bear that out. It showed Meek leading Crist among Democrats 39 to 38 percent—a significant improvement over a July poll that found Crist leading 44–35. Moreover, the survey showed Republican support firming up even more behind Rubio. The GOP nominee now leads Crist 69 to 20 percent, compared with 54–23 in July.
I raised the possibility in a piece last month that Crist could carve a path to victory by aiming for the electoral middle, capturing independents and moderates of both parties. That may still be the case, but things just turned a little more complicated for the governor.