Senate strategery in the Sunshine State

SENATE STRATEGERY IN THE SUNSHINE STATE…. For much of the summer, it looked as if Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (I), after leaving the GOP and moving to the left, was well positioned in the state’s open U.S. Senate race. But after the primaries, Democratic voters started to rally behind Rep. Kendrick Meek (D), whose post-primary bounce came at Crist’s expense, though it hasn’t been enough to keep the Democrat from running third.

At this point, all the recent polls show the same thing — Crist and Meek are splitting the center-left, leaving Marco Rubio (R) with double-digit leads. It’s prompted some to begin whispering about whether Meek should withdraw, giving Crist a shot at victory, making it far less likely that a far-right Republican will take the seat, and holding out the possibility that Crist would end up caucusing with Dems.

The whispers are almost certainly in vain. For one thing, Meek swears up and down he isn’t going anywhere, and there’s literally no evidence to the contrary. For another, in the exceedingly unlikely chance Meek were to quit, it’s too late to remove the Democratic nominee’s name from the ballot anyway.

But just for the sake of conversation, would it be a good idea? In his column for The Hill, Daily Kos’ Markos Moulitsas raises a good point.

The truth is that Democrats aren’t just happy for Meek to stay in the race, they are actively boosting what is pretty much a hopeless candidacy. Why? Because Meek’s presence on the ballot helps Democrats in the governor’s race.

With Democrats poised to lose myriad governors’ races, winning Florida would be a massive coup…. But more substantively, holding the governorship would be a huge assist to Obama’s reelection bid in 2012, as keeping Florida blue will be a top White House priority. In addition, Florida’s governor has a veto over the state’s congressional redistricting in 2012. While a ballot initiative aims to strip that power from the partisan Legislature into more impartial hands, holding the governorship will be critical if that effort fails.

And that’s where Meek comes in. Thirteen percent of Florida voters are — like Meek — African-American, and right now polls show him with 71 percent support in that community. That vote will be critical to Democrat Alex Sink’s chances in the virtually deadlocked gubernatorial race. In a campaign where every vote will prove critical, Democrats can’t count on Crist delivering new votes to other Democratic candidates. Abandoning Meek for Crist would almost surely depress African-American turnout and cost Democrats elsewhere on the ballot.

In some conversations with Florida Dems, I’ve heard the sentiment more than once — if given a choice, they’d rather win the governor’s race than the Senate race, a preference made easier by polls showing the former practically tied, and the latter looking like a blowout.

If it takes a grand bargain — Meek’s presence helps Rubio and Sink (and down-ballot Dems) win their respective contests — it’s one many in the party will gladly accept.