CLINTON NEARLY BROKERED DEAL IN FLORIDA SENATE RACE…. In Florida’s closely watched U.S. Senate race, the campaign has unfolded exactly as the center-left feared — the far-right former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) is cruising to a comfortable victory, as former Gov. Charlie Crist (I) and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) split the reasonable vote.

To prevent a Rubio win, the only plausible scenario was to have Meek drop out, throw his support to Crist, or both. Publicly, Meek refused to even consider the possibility. Privately, it appears a deal very nearly came together, thanks to the intervention of Meek’s most prominent advocate. Ben Smith had the scoop late yesterday.

Bill Clinton sought to persuade Rep. Kendrick Meek to drop out of the race for Senate during a trip to Florida last week — and nearly succeeded.

Meek agreed — twice — to drop out and endorse Gov. Charlie Crist’s independent bid in a last-ditch effort to stop Marco Rubio, the Republican nominee who stands on the cusp of national stardom.

Meek, a staunch Clinton ally from Miami, has failed to broaden his appeal around the state and is mired in third place in most public polls, with a survey today showing him with just 15 percent of the vote. His withdrawal, polls suggest, would throw core Democratic voters to the moderate governor, rocking a complicated three-way contest and likely throwing the election to Crist.

The Meek campaign is denying that any such deal was ever in place. But multiple reports from a variety of outlets note that the former president was involved in talks; Meek had expressed a willingness to consider dropping out; and Crist, who had originally reached out to the Clinton camp, was very much involved in the process.

Indeed, the sources aren’t exactly anonymous here. Clinton told CNN he’d talked with Meek about the possible arrangement; top Clinton aide Doug Band confirmed that Meek was open to the deal; and Crist told MSNBC that he was in direct talks with Clinton’s team. Crist’s campaign spokesperson even issued a statement describing the Politico report as “accurate.”

This is not, in other words, anonymously-sourced campaign gossip.

Accounts vary on the timeline, but Clinton apparently believed he’d completed the deal last week, and an endorsement rally had been set for Tuesday, Oct. 26, in Miami. Meek, however, changed his mind this past weekend.

So, what happens now? Given the intensity of the Meek campaign’s response, I’d be surprised if the Democrat suddenly reversed course, just five days before Election Day. In fact, I’m not even sure if it would make much of a difference — Meek’s name would still be on the ballot, and many Meek backers have already participated in early voting.

But the news itself, which I suspect will be a hot topic of conversation throughout the Sunshine State today, may also reinforce a not-so-subtle message to Florida Democrats: if defeating Rubio is the principal goal, Crist is the candidate better positioned to make that happen.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.