Why Kendrick Meek Was Right to Stay in the Florida Senate Race

So let me just say that it's not completely clear Kendrick Meek made the right decision by staying in the Florida Senate race.

Ben Smith broke the story Thursday that Bill Clinton had twice convinced Congressman Meek, a Clinton loyalist from Miami, to drop out of the Senate race and endorse independent Gov. Charlie Crist--to the point, even, where a date had been set for an endorsement rally--and that Meek decided instead to stay in.

[UPDATE: Meek's campaign manager denies that Meek ever planned to drop out, saying, "The story is not true." In the original story, Clinton spokesman Matt McKenna confirmed that Clinton had reached out to Meek to attempt to exit the race.]

Maybe the former president was right about this.

Clinton tried to convince Meek to drop out for a reason--that Crist could possibly win the race if Meek did decide to get out and hand Crist a chunk of his votes. Crist, the Republican governor whom many Florida Republicans see as way too liberal and tax (or, rather, fee) happy, could caucus with Democrats in the Senate. And he'd certainly be sufficiently indebted to Clinton to give him the incentive to do so, if the all the turned backs among Florida Republicans weren't already enough.

Executing this plan would, if it worked, deliver a Senate seat to Democrats in a year where Republicans will probably come within one or two seats of taking control of the upper chamber--meaning control of the upper chamber is actually in play.

That's a logic for dropping out that can't be ignored.

But, aside from finishing what one started, aside from the fact that Florida Democrats actually believe Kendrick Meek is the best choice for them, and aside from the fact that he has been telling people for years at this point that they should vote for him for actual reasons that have to do with policies he believes in, Meek's decision to stay in this race will help Democrats across the state of Florida, even if he doesn't win the Senate seat.

Florida is home to some significant, competitive races this year. The tight governor's race pits Democratic state CFO Alex Sink against millionaire Tea Party health care businessman Rick Scott, and the Cook Political Report rates five House races as competitive, including the re-election bids of Democratic Reps. Alan Grayson and Ron Klein. Four of those races are tilting the GOP's way, and Democrats can use all the help they can get.

Meek is now running a big, statewide campaign, with advertising and a get-out-the-vote operation that will turn out his supporters, many of whom will vote for the Democratic ticket, even if they've come to the polling place to support him.

The congressman's constituency through four terms in the House--a constituency that was represented by his mother, Congresswoman Carrie Meek, immediately before Kendrick--happen to reside in Miami's largest black community in a district that incorporates the northern part of the city.

If Meek dropped out, potentially thousands of black voters in Miami would have less of a reason to vote on Tuesday--and that's on top of all the Meek supporters across the state of Florida--which would almost certainly hurt Sink's campaign, in addition to the Democrats engaged in tough House races across the state.

If it's worth it to national Democrats to trade a Senate seat for a governorship (remember, Sink could campaign for Obama in 2012...) and a few House races, well, that's a decision for someone on Bill Clinton's pay grade. Or a lesser pay grade that's equally graded to make national Democratic political decisions.

Who knows, maybe Meek will win on Election Day. The polls could be wrong. Maybe pollsters really haven't mastered the oversampling of cell phone respondents quite yet. I don't know. I'm just a caveman. When your scientists unfroze me, I thought Marco Rubio would probably lock it up.

But I do know this: Even if Meek would have delivered a U.S. Senate seat into the hands of an independent who could be the Senate's next Joe Lieberman or Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins or, on some issues, Arlen Specter, his exit from the race wouldn't just have deflated the hopes of Democrats in Florida, it could potentially cost them a Democratic governor and a couple needed House wins.

Just something to keep in mind.