FL-SEN: Kendrick Meek’s To Lose?

HOWARD MEGDAL: Conventional wisdom has an independent bid for Florida’s U.S. Senate race by Charlie Crist as a godsend for Kendrick Meek, the Democratic nominee. In fact, many believe that the race is Meek’s to lose once Crist enters the fray as an independent.

But lose it he might. There still may not be room for Meek in this race.

Let’s start by what consists of Charlie Crist’s support prior to leaving the Republican Party. As of earlier this month, Marco Rubio had a 57-28 percent lead in the Republican primary. But polling by the same pollster, Rasmussen, had Rubio ahead just 37-30 in a general election matchup, with Meek coming in at 22 percent.

So what can we take away from these two sets of polls? For one thing, Charlie Crist’s support is overwhelmingly not from Republicans already. And on the day he leaves the party, that support is likely to dissipate even further.

Which will leave Crist with one option-to effectively become the Democratic nominee. He has the ability to do this in many ways. He recently vetoed an education bill that endeared him to educators across the state, and in his role as governor, will be able to tack effectively center-left as often as he wants to. And every time he does so, he’ll have the ability to further solidify his position as the Rubio alternative-something he’s already become in many voter minds. (There’s a reason Meek is in third place).

Keep in mind- Charlie Crist out-raised Kendrick Meek in the first quarter of 2010, at a time when Crist gave little indication he’d run as an independent, and Meek had the Democrats all to himself. As of March 31, Crist also had twice as much cash on hand. In other words, Crist won’t have much difficulty identifying himself as the effective Democrat to voters. Meek can either respond, giving Rubio clear room to run, or concentrate on Rubio while Crist looms as a higher-profile alternative.

Unknown, of course, if if Crist will be a Joe Lieberman-type indie, and concentrate all of his fire on Rubio in a vengeance campaign. And this may be in derestimating Meek’s ability to get his message across.

But the smart money still seems to be on either Crist, or far likelier, Rubio come November.

CHRIS PUMMER: While Crist might appeal to a lot of centrists and moderates in both the Republican and Democratic parties, his record is far too conservative to keep Meek from consolidating the Dem vote once he scores bigger name recognition as the November election nears.

This was part of the problem I outlined earlier about why an indie bid for Crist is a bad idea.  Rubio and Meek should both be able to round up the voters of their respective parties once they’ve become the official Republican and Democratic nominees, respectively.

Unless Crist pulls a real stunner at the filing deadline and decides to run as a Democrat, Meek will be well positioned for the general election.

If Crist stays in the GOP primary, he and Rubio are sure to engage in a bloody, expensive battle. Meanwhile Meek would run unopposed, and besides attracting fewer barbs, would be able to build on his already substantial war chest, which might be marginally less than what Crist has on hand, but is still a handsome sum for a candidate in his position.

If Crist runs as an indie, Meek is also spared the brunt of the sitting governor’s attacks. Crist will have to aim most of his broadsides at Rubio and the GOP as part of his case for leaving the party run run on his own.

An indie run by Crist might even be a bigger boon to Meek. Should Crist stay in the Republican primary, he and Rubio will only be tearing each other down until late August. If Crist skips the primary and goes straight to the general with an I next to his name, he and Rubio will slug it out right into November.

If Meek can in fact consolidate Democratic support — and I see no convincing reason why he won’t — he stands to be the winner of the Republican Party’s civil war for Florida.

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