Updated: 10:43 p.m.
Rep. Kendrick Meek pushed back Thursday against a report that President Bill Clinton nearly talked the Florida Democrat into withdrawing from his Senate race last week.
Politico, citing anonymous sources, reported Thursday that Meek agreed twice to drop out and endorse Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, in the hopes that Democratic voters would redirect their support to the independent candidate, but that Meek backed out.
“The press report that’s out there from Politico is inaccurate — at best,” Meek said at a news conference Thursday night. “President Clinton and I are good friends. … He’s continuing to be a supporter of this campaign. … Any rumor or any statement by anyone that says that I made a decision to get out of the race is inaccurate.”
Meek did say at the news conference that Clinton asked him about reports that he might drop out but that he quickly ended the conversation, Politico reported. Meek said that he never decided to quit and that he was never asked to by the former president or anybody else.
Earlier in the evening, Meek campaign manager Abe Dyk also denied the report. “The article is not true,” he said in a statement. “Kendrick Meek was never dropping out of this race, is never dropping out of this race, and will never drop out of this race. Kendrick Meek will always stand up for the middle class and will not leave Floridians a choice between two lifelong conservative Republicans who only stand with the special interests. Kendrick is the Democratic nominee so if anyone should drop out, it’s Charlie Crist.”
But the Senate campaign for Crist said in a statement that the story was accurate. Crist changed his party affiliation from Republican to Independent in April, when it appeared he could not beat Marco Rubio in the party’s primary for the Senate race. Rubio went on to become the GOP nominee, and polls have shown him comfortably ahead in the three-way contest. Polls have also shown Meek trailing badly in third place.
Clinton spokesman Matt McKenna confirmed to Politico that Doug Band, a top aide to Clinton, first facilitated talks between Meek and Crist and that Clinton stepped in when Meek showed serious interest. The former president campaigned with Meek last week.
The Washington Post, citing an anonymous source close to Clinton, reported that Crist initiated the talks by personally contacting Band and asking whether Clinton would discuss dropping out with Meek.
Crist campaign spokesman Danny Kanner said in a statement that while the Politico “story is accurate, the Governor’s focus is on uniting common-sense Democrats, independents, and Republicans behind his campaign because he is the one candidate who can defeat Tea Party extremist Marco Rubio and deliver bipartisan results for Florida in Washington.”
The White House knew of the plans but did not initiate the talks, Politico reported, citing anonymous Democratic sources.
Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff said the party continues to support Meek. “Kendrick Meek is the only candidate who has fought for middle class families, he is the only candidate who stood up to George W. Bush’s attempts to privatize Social Security, and is the only one who has always showed up to defend our Democratic values by standing up to the extremist Republicans,” he said in a statement. “Because Kendrick Meek is the leader we need in the U.S. Senate to fight for us, the Florida Democratic Party is proud to continue fighting to elect Kendrick Meek to the U.S. Senate so he can continue working for everyday Floridians and to bring jobs to the Sunshine State.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele slammed the reported plan. “If we have learned anything this election cycle, it’s that voters demand the right to choose candidates for themselves, not by a political establishment seeking to make those decisions from on high,” he said in a statement Thursday. “President Clinton’s actions to have Kendrick Meek withdraw from the campaign 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.”