Throughout this race, the conventional wisdom has been that Rep. Kendrick Meek, the likely Democratic nominee for this year's Florida Senate election, would be crushed whether the Republicans nominated Marco Rubio or Charlie Crist. Recently, though, some have been reevaluating this race, as general election polls show Meek proving surprisingly competitive, especially against Rubio. Meek is still the likely underdog, especially in what is likely to be a Republican-trending year, but a close finish or an outright win isn't out of the question.
On Monday, Meek will boost that impression by turning in 130,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot. What is remarkable is that very few candidates qualify for the ballot this way; you can get on a primary ballot for just $10,000, so most candidates simply opt to pay that.
On Monday, the Miami Democrat and his wife, Leslie, will sign his U.S. Senate campaign's last petitions and deliver them to the Miami-Dade Elections office. Meek needs 112,476 to qualify for the U.S. Senate race, and his campaign says it'll exceed that number, delivering more than 130,000 signed petitions.
"I thought it was very, very important that the people of the state of Florida place my name on the ballot to be the next U.S. senator,'' Meek said of his decision to seek signatures rather than pay the roughly $10,000 filing fee. "And I thought it was important for me to listen to the needs of Florida, from Escambia County to Monroe County. I knew it would make me a better candidate and a better senator.''
Meek's campaign says he'll become the first statewide candidate to qualify for the ballot by petition, if the signatures are found valid. His campaign manager earlier this month told reporters that the campaign would pay the fee if there is a dispute over the validity of the signatures, though it does not expect to have to do so.
Besides historical bragging rights, the petition drive has given Meek free media -- newspaper stories, radio and TV spots -- at a time when the battle between his Republican rivals for the Senate seat is drawing national attention and overshadowing his quest.
"I wasn't known as well as I needed to be known and we still have more work to do on that,'' Meek said, noting he spent a lot of his time north of Interstate 4 in Orlando, where he was virtually unknown.
The petition drive has also allowed him to meet thousands of voters and amass a data base of more than 130,000 potential supporters.
Meek also has proved a surprisingly good fundraiser, with $3.4 million on hand, compared with $2.1 million for Rubio and $7.6 million for Crist.
This race clearly should not be written off. Meek is proving to be a surprisingly effective candidate and especially if Rubio is seen as overly right-wing, Meek stands a decent chance of holding together Democrats and independents.
Meek's biggest challenge is going to be enthusing Democratic voters, who are disengaged. From Public Policy Polling:
Rubio is ahead anyway for two reasons. First, those polled report having voted for McCain by a margin of 4 points in 2008 when Barack Obama won the state by 3. That 7 point shift in who's planning to vote this year is similar to what we found for the recent elections in New Jersey and Massachusetts. (There was a much larger Democratic turnout drop off in Virginia.)
The other reason Rubio's ahead is that McCain voters are more excited about him so far than Obama's voters are about Meek. 23% of Obama voters are undecided compared to 13% of McCain voters. That's really not a problem for Meek at this point more than seven months away from the election- the Crist/Rubio feud has been sucking all the air out of the race and really the best thing for Meek's chances at this point is for the Crist collapse to continue.
Floridians who voted Democratic in 2008 are not abandoning the party, but do need to be reenergized. That's a lot easier said than done and it hasn't happened in the last few major races. But if the electorate that shows up this fall mirrors the folks who came out last time Meek will probably win.
The other - major - challenge for Meek is going to be countering poor impressions of HCR among seniors and retirees.
TALLAHASSEE -- Florida voters dislike the new healthcare law so much that President Barack Obama and the state's top Democrat, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, are paying a hefty political price, according to a new survey and analysis by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.
Only 34 percent of Florida voters support the new law while 54 percent are against it, according to the poll. Opposition is significantly strong among two crucial blocs: those older than 65 and voters with no party affiliation. Seniors disfavor the bill by a 65-25 percent margin, while independents oppose the law 62-34.
Still, for Meek to gather 130,000 signatures is significant. It shows a high degree of political savvy, introduces him to large numbers of voters, and suggests that he will put up a solid fight in November.