Clinton says he tried to talk Florida Senate candidate out of race

Maggie Rodriguez talks to Democratic Senatorial candidate, Kendrick Meek about the reports of a deal between Independent Charlie Crist and President Bill Clinton.
By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 2010; 12:15 AM

Former president Bill Clinton tried to persuade Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek to drop out of the Florida Senate race, he acknowledged Thursday night, saying that Meek didn't have enough money to win the race.

Clinton told the congressman that he could make a greater impact if he quit the three-way race and endorsed Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (I), a Clinton official confirmed Thursday.

But Clinton himself would not elaborate in an interview with CNN on the specifics of his conversations with Meek, a longtime friend.

"I knew it was being discussed, people had discussed it on and off. . . . It was no secret," Clinton told CNN.

Clinton first worked through his senior adviser Doug Band to make the deal before getting personally involved, spokesman Matt McKenna confirmed. The discussions were first reported Thursday evening by Politico.

Crist was the person who asked Clinton to intervene, through a call to Band, a source close to Clinton told Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent on Thursday night.

Crist said on MSNBC that he knew of the conversations between Clinton and Meek. Asked how, he replied, "I had numerous phone calls with people very close to President Clinton."

Meek seemed amenable to leaving the race, McKenna said, and on two occasions he nearly went through with it but ultimately changed his mind.

Meek denied that Thursday night, saying in a statement that he "was never dropping out of this race, is never dropping out of this race, and will never drop out of this race."

Florida polls have consistently showed Meek running a distant third in the Senate race, behind front-runner Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Crist.

The winner of next week's election will succeed Sen. George LeMieux, Crist's former chief of staff. The governor appointed LeMieux in 2009 after Mel Martinez resigned, with the understanding that he would clear the seat for Crist this November.

But he didn't account for the surge of Rubio, his challenger in the Republican primary, amid the rise of tea party groups in the state.His standing among conservatives also suffered from a much-publicized hug of President Obama in 2008 after the president promised federal aid for Florida.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company