POLL: Racism or Realism?

POLL: Racism or Realism?

Just a few days after denying that he’d ever asked Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek to drop out of the Florida senate race to consolidate support for Republican-turned-independent Gov. Charlie Crist, President Bill Clinton is stumping for Meek–again–in the final hours of what is predicted will be a losing campaign. According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, tea party favorite Marco Rubio holds a comfortable lead at 45%, followed by Crist and Meek at 31% and 18%, respectively.

Still, there was much speculation and spirited debate at the end of last week about the Clinton allegations and whether Meek had in fact decided to end his bid. But it was much ado about nothing since Meek would have had to drop out of the race before the state’s early voting period began on October 18 for such an effort to impact on either opponent. When the story broke, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele immediately issued a statement, hinting darkly of racism. “[It] sends a chilling signal to all voters, but especially African Americans. One can only imagine the response if Republican leadership tried to force out of the race — in the 11th hour — a qualified black candidate like Kendrick Meek,” Steele said.

San Francisco State University political scientist Robert Smith disagrees and believes that if the allegations are true, the only motivation would be the reality that any chance Meek had to win evaporated once it became a three-way race and given how tenuous the Democrats’ hold is on the Senate, every seat counts. He does, however, recognize that many black voters may share Steele’s view. “A lot of African-American voters wouldn’t understand the machinations of the idea that if Meek withdraws Crist wins, and Rubio, who’s not sympathetic to Blacks, would not win,” Smith said. “That’s too complicated and Machiavellian for the typical voter to understand.”

Appearing on the MSNBC program Jansing & Co., political analyst Michelle Bernard was asked whether she would have advised Meek to withdraw if she were a Democratic strategist. Her answer was yes, given the poll numbers, but following a candid conversation with a viewer who also is a Meek campaign volunteer, she also understands why some black voters would be offended. “She asked why the African American candidate is always asked to do the right thing for the party and drop out,” Bernard recalled and noted how a similar request was made of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama who was told that he was a spoiler for Hilary Clinton. “I got the sense that she and other African-Americans working on the campaign are absolutely outraged that anyone would suggest that [loyal Democrat] Meek drop out of the campaign and throw his support to Crist versus somebody suggesting that Crist jump out of the campaign and throw his independent, Democratic and Republican support to Meek.”

Bernard is uncertain whether Meek ever had a realistic chance of victory in a state as “red hot” as Florida, without the full backing of Obama and the Democratic Party from the outset. “Having Bill Clinton support and campaign for him is wonderful, but it is not the same as having the president of the United States fully embrace your campaign, particularly as one African American man who made history lending his support to another African American man who could go down in the history books as one of the few democratically elected black members of the U.S. Senate in our history.”

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