With 99% of precincts reporting, Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Florida) handily won his state’s Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, beating billionaire opponent Jeff Greene by 57% to 31%.
“Because the people of the state of Florida stood with me tonight through $26 million-plus being spent against us, we made history in this state, because the state of Florida was not for sale, will not be for sale, and we will stand up and continue to deliver,” Meek said Tuesday night.
Greene didn’t enter the race until April, vowing to spend however much of his own money it took to win—and he did. For a while, it seemed like a series of negative ads linking Meek to corrupt Miami businessmen would put Greene over the top. But after running what David Bositis, senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, describes as a “vanity campaign,” Democrats decided that Meek was the more serious candidate.
Now he must face off with Republican Marco Rubio and independent Gov. Charlie Crist in the general election. But according to conventional wisdom, he’s got his work cut out for him. According to Bositis, Greene’s candidacy hurt Meek by forcing the black lawmaker to devote valuable time and limited resources to a primary fight.
“When you have a primary and your opponents don’t, it’s to their advantage because they have much more money in the bag and can start preparing for the general election,” Bositis said. “Meek had to waste time getting the Democratic nod, so he wasn’t preparing for the general election.”
Most experts are saying that this will be a difficult year for Democrats who may be punished by voters who’ve lost confidence in their ability to repair the economy. In addition, Florida’s conservatives are solidly behind Rubio and the moderate Crist could easily draw a good amount of liberal support. To be truly competitive, Meek will have to make a compelling case to his party, donors and the media that he can win. “That’s going to be his main problem,” Bositis said. “He’s got to somehow show that he can win and I’m not sure what [his argument] would be.”
San Francisco State University political scientist Robert Smith predicts a big loss for Meek this fall.
“The state is more Republican and conservative than places where blacks usually win. It went for Obama last time, but that was largely Obama’s doing, and in this political climate, it’s likely to go Republican,” Smith said. “Even if Meek wages a well-financed campaign, he’s a bit too liberal for Florida.”
More important, Smith thinks that Meek’s primary win could actually hurt black voters, most of whom will would certainly vote for him.
“If Meek were out, the black vote would likely go overwhelmingly to Crist and he’d be in a better position to win,” said Smith. “Crist would be much more sensitive in the Senate than Rubio, who would be a powerful negative voice against black concerns.”