Never has TGIF meant so much to a single campaign.
In the space of a week, Florida’s Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Rep. Kendrick Meek, has battled dropout rumors, disappearing Democrats, a Terminator and a Kennedy. For a campaign that has been struggling to get out of third place in a three-way race, Friday couldn’t come soon enough.
It all started a week ago today, with an unsourced, but tantalizing post on the Wall Street Journal website by Stephen Moore, a founder of the Libertarian group Club for Growth. Moore splits his time between New York and Washington writing about economics, not politics.
Despite Moore’s complete lack of sourcing, his claim that “Republican leaders” in Florida harbor nebulous “fears” that “a deal was in the works” to get Meek to drop out of the race and endorse no party candidate Charlie Crist, took off like wildfire.
And while the Meek campaign and their supporters smelled a Crist dirty trick – something the Crist team denies – calls for Meek to make good on that non-existent “deal” began to spread, from Crist-leaning Florida Democrats to the national liberal blogosphere. Daily Kos founder Marcos Moulitsas, never a fan of the Meek campaign, quit his recent softening on the candidate and joined the dropout chorus.
On Monday, a tense looking Meek appeared on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown insisting he was staying in the race, and answering a kick-to-the-stomach question from reporter Savannah Guthrie about how he would feel if tea party Republican Marco Rubio won because he stayed in. He repeated the same message on cable, to newspaper reporters, and to anyone who would listen.
And the campaign released a long-awaited radio spot for Meek recorded by President Obama.
How did the Democratic nominee, who won 528,000 votes in the August primary, get tagged by the political press as the spoiler? The Meek campaign must still be smarting from the fall down that rabbit hole…and searching for the nearest exit out of Wonderland.
By Tuesday, a newly formed group of not-so new Democrats, called the People’s Choice PAC, voted to send a letter to Palm Beach Democratic poohbah, Commissioner Burt Aaronson, calling on Meek to quit. The group had already met with Crist, and team Meek smelled a rat, since the candidate was scheduled to meet with Aaronson, who reportedly controlled the PAC himself.
In the end, the Meek team pulled the plug on the meeting, and on Thursday, Aaronson did the expected and endorsed Crist.
Also Tuesday, the Florida Democratic Party staged a hastily-prepared attempt at damage control, in the form of a conference call beset by technical difficulties, strange soundbites, and an 18-second dud of an endorsement from Ragin’ Cajun James Carville, who then rushed off the phone to take another call.
And just when things couldn’t seem to get worse, they did.
Two new polls showed Meek still bringing up the rear. Worse, Public Policy Polling decided to test whether Meek or Crist would fare better in a one-on-one with Rubio. The results? Terrible, horrible, very bad week…
Tuesday brought still more bad news for Team Meek in the form of a Twitter endorsement of Crist by California “Governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came bearing more than just tweets.
On Wednesday, Schwarzenegger delivered his in-law – Robert F. Kennedy Jr., nephew of the 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy.
RFK Jr. didn’t just endorse Crist, or call Rubio a “crackpot” — he told the crowd of loyal Democrats in Deerfield Beach, Fla., that Meek can’t win, echoing the talking point Crist has been hammering home to Meek’s base.
Kennedy’s endorsement and stature seem to offer the ultimate permission for liberal Democrats — read white Democrats — to flee across party lines to Crist, though Meek continues to hold a slight lead over Crist among Democrats in the polls.
And Meek seems intent on not letting guilt-ridden Democrats off the hook for dumping him by dropping his campaign. (Those calling for him to quit apparently haven’t received their sample ballots, which are already printed, with Meek’s name on them, and they apparently haven’t thought through the potential impact of their public cajoling on black voters in Florida, who are mostly in Meek’s corner.)
Off-the-record conversations with Democrats this week, including a black elected official who supports Meek, revealed the depth of the resignation among many Democrats that the Florida Senate race is over.
A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee insisted Thursday that the party remains fired up for Meek, a talking point that’s about as thin as Democrats’ chances of swiping the Republican-held Senate seat in the Sunshine State.
The Meek campaign can take comfort, I suppose, in the fact that the number crunchers give Crist barely a better shot at beating Rubio than their guy.
And at least, at long last, their terrible week is over.