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Charlie Crist Continues to Eclipse Kendrick Meek

January 16, 2014 - 6:00pm

Kendrick Meek returned to Tallahassee last week to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, in one of his most high-profile moments since his 2010 Senate bid.

Meek, who served in both the Florida House and in Congress before running for the Senate, offered the keynote address at a ceremony on Wednesday honoring King at Florida A&M University, the former congressmans alma mater. During his speech, Meek talked about leadership, service, and praised the university for its role in the civil rights struggle.

Wading into current political issues, Meek thanked the Dream Defenders for their protests after the death of Trayvon Martin and their efforts to repeal Floridas Stand Your Ground law. Meek also gave special thanks to his mother Carrie Meek who served in Congress for 20 years before her son won the seat in 2002.

Despite his record, Meek never turned into much of a factor in the 2010 Senate battle. Meek was thought to be a strong favorite for the Democratic nomination but billionaire businessman Jeff Greene launched a surprise Senate bid against him. Greene opened up his wallet but Meek held on to win with 57 percent of the vote while the billionaire placed a distant second with 31 percent.

Meek never found his groove after that, though that was mainly due to Charlie Crist rather than Meek's own fault. When Crist announced he was leaving the Republican Party to run with no party affiliation, speculation grew that Meek would drop out. Meek slogged through the race even as polls showed him increasingly becoming less of a factor.

Democratic voters who wanted to stop Marco Rubios march to the Senate divided their votes between Meek and Crist on Election Day. While he got 30 percent in his Miami-Dade home base and beat out Crist there, Meek was basically an afterthought when the smoke cleared. Rubio won with 49 percent followed by Crist in second with 30 percent. Meek stood in distant third with 20 percent. Out of Floridas 67 counties, Meek carried only small Gadsden County, the only majority African-American county in the state and a traditional Democratic stronghold, outside of Tallahassee.

To his credit, Meek handled the Senate race with grace, even as his campaign was undermined by a novice billionaire in the primaries and a party switcher in the general election. After the election, it was expected Meek would resurface. But despite being a good solider for the Democrats, Meek largely vanished from Florida politics after his underwhelming showing in 2010.

Meek has become forgotten by Florida Democrats as the man who assured he would not be a factor in the Senate race has moved to the head of the line. Despite Crists years as a Republican, Democrats across the nation have welcomed him to the party. Crist had a prime speaking spot at the Democratic convention in Charlotte as he endorsed Barack Obama. The likes of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Allison Tant have done what they could to welcome Crist to the party as he runs against Rick Scott. Meek, on the other hand, has generally kept a very low profile and the Obama administration hasnt been beating down his door with job offers. No reason for the Democrats to give any attention to Meek and remind party faithful what Crist did to him.

If Crist loses in November, Meek could well resurface. But if Crist becomes governor, Democrats will want Meek to continue to keep a low profile. Hes become something of a ghost, a painful memory for Democrats who are now so desperate to win that theyre backing Crist.

Meek is only 47 and he should have chances down the road, but the cards arent exactly friendly. Another Senate bid or a gubernatorial campaign seems out of the question after the 2010 debacle. Nor has Meek shown much interest in any of the state Cabinet offices. The only real option in the short run for Meek could be his old congressional seat. While shes only in her second term, Frederica Wilson is 71 but she shows no signs of slowing down. Meek could remain in political limbo for a while even as the man who stole his thunder becomes Florida Democrats new love.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson writes exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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