Meek easily wins Democratic Senate nod in Florida

Holly Bailey
The Upshot

After weeks of looking as though he might lose the race, Rep. Kendrick Meek soundly defeated financier Jeff Greene in Florida's Democratic Senate primary — a major victory, since Greene spent more than $26 million of his own cash in the race.

With more than half the vote in, Meek was beating Greene by double digits. Greene, who led the polls up until about a week ago, had campaigned as an outsider, but Florida voters ultimately soured on his candidacy after weeks of bad press over his celebrity-studded yacht parties and thin political resumé.

But now Meek now faces an even more difficult challenge: Can he keep Democrats from defecting to Charlie Crist's campaign? All summer, polls have found Meek running a distant third behind Crist, who quit the GOP to run as an independent, and Republican Marco Rubio — in part, because Crist has been pulling significant Democratic support away from Meek.

But a new Public Policy Polling survey out this week found that Meek has now a 1-point advantage over Crist among likely Democratic voters in the race — a narrow edge that has taken away Crist's overall lead in the general election. According to PPP, Rubio now leads the race at 40 percent, compared with 32 percent for Crist and 17 percent for Meek. The poll's margin of error is 4 points.

The race presents a test for Democrats in Washington — who, in spite of backing Meek as the party's nominee, have openly flirted with Crist, who has positioned himself as a moderate in the race and won't say which party he'll caucus with should he ultimately win in November. Do they put all of their efforts into backing Meek, who runs a distant third? Or do they work to undermine Rubio, in hopes of boosting Crist?

A major clue to how engaged the Democratic establishment will be in the race is the inclination — or lack thereof — that President Obama shows when Florida Democratic leaders ask him  to barnstorm the state on Meek's behalf. Obama, who is close to Crist, appeared with Meek just once during the primary — and that was an appearance on behalf of the Florida Democratic Party, not Meek specifically. While Obama's poll numbers are dismal in Florida, he remains popular with the Democratic base, which Meek desperately needs to stay united behind him in November.

(Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP)