Tavis: Perhaps nowhere is there more attention this election season than on the Senate race in Florida. Kendrick Meek is the four-term congressman who recently won the Democratic nomination for Florida’s Senate seat. He joins us tonight from Miami. Congressman, first of all, congratulations and an honor to have you on this program, sir.
Rep. Kendrick Meek: Well, thank you so very much, and I’m honored to be on the program.
Tavis: Usually it’s the big election where you’ve got to come out with the big guns a’ blazing, but it must feel already like you have been through a tsunami of a campaign, because this primary wasn’t no joke, pardon my English.
Meek: You got that right. When you have a billionaire that’s saying that he’s willing to spend what it takes to win in the primary, that’s a lot. He spent over $26 million, outspent us six to one. I’m glad that we qualified by petition here in Florida. I started in January of ’09, before the president was sworn in. That strategy worked for us in the primary.
We had an opportunity to build relationships in 67 counties, placed on the ballot by over 140,000 Floridians, and it paid off in the final analysis. Grassroots campaigning gave us a 23-point victory.
Tavis: So how does a candidate who doesn’t have a billion dollars stashed away upend one who does, particularly in a world where we see politicians from New York City to California attempting to, and some successfully, buying elections?
Meek: Well, again, I’ll just say hard work brought about the kind of outcome that we had. A number of groups from labor groups took part in the election. Democratic Party overall, from the chairman of the party; also the leaders in our party, from President Obama to President Clinton to senior Senator Bill Nelson. Alcee Hastings played a very strong role, and Corrine Brown here in Florida.
We’re very, very excited at the fact that Governor Kaine played a strong role in giving some comments to national media that I am the true Democrat in that race and it helped us overall. Democrats were able to vote in a way that allowed us to win.
Tavis: How angry, how upset or disappointed – you fill in the blank – how something were you when you appeared to be moving rather smoothly to winning the Democratic nomination and out of the woodwork comes this guy with a billion dollars trying to deny you the nomination? (Laughter)
Meek: Well, Tavis, I could tell you – I tell folks that I play the David role well. I’ve been in the position of being underestimated before in the past. My supporters have been underestimated. In this general election we’re going to probably have to follow the same track, unfortunately, of folks having low expectations of our ability to win.
But we will win because we have a ground apparatus unlike any other statewide campaign here in this state. Mr. Greene dropped $26 million. You can’t purchase a Democratic primary in Florida, especially when Democrats come together in a grassroots way to help deliver a victory like they did last Tuesday.
Tavis: Why do you think, Congressman, your campaign has been, and by your own admission now perhaps will continue to be underestimated? You’re in a tight race, obviously, with Marco Rubio, the Republican, Charlie Crist, the governor, once a Republican, now Independent. So you’ve got a three-way race. We’ll come back to the strategy around that in just a second.
But why, to your point now, has your campaign been, and for the foreseeable future you think remain, underestimated?
Meek: Well, in this race in Florida it started early. As I shared earlier I started in January of last year and so Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist started running last summer. It’s been about Marco Rubio, Charlie Crist in the primary, and then the governor went down to the supervisor of elections office when he figured out he couldn’t win in the Republican primary and became an Independent.
But in the final analysis, Tavis, the bottom line is that I’m the only Democrat in this race, running against two conservative Republicans. Marco Rubio is conservative, Charlie Crist, of his own account, conservative, and we have different records.
I’m pro-choice; I am 100 percent as relates to offshore oil drilling, against it, before and after the spill. I’m the only candidate that has always been against the privatization of Social Security.
So when we look at these debates, as I line up head-to-head with Marco Rubio on Sunday on “Meet the Press,” you will see the differences between his platform and my platform. Governor Crist is more in the corner of Marco Rubio because his stance has been conservative.
Even though he was for the stimulus, then he was against the stimulus, and a lot of Floridians are not comfortable with a leader who cannot take a position as a candidate. They feel as a senator that he will follow that same track.
Tavis: You mentioned it. I was going to go there anyway, so I’m glad you went there. This Sunday all eyes will be on “Meet the Press” to see the most-watched Senate race come November come head-to-head when you and Marco Rubio will be David Gregory’s guest this Sunday, debating on “Meet the Press.” The news as of now is that Charlie Crist has been invited by “Meet the Press,” turned down that invite. What do you make of that?
Meek: I don’t know what to make of it, but I do know that the day the governor starts to take positions, he feels that his numbers will start to fall. He is in a precarious position politically because he will not take a stand, because he had his opportunity to beat Marco Rubio in the primary, and when the going got tough he found a way to get off the ship and say that he was – or is now saying that he is an Independent.
When he has to stand up to his past record and start to shed light on his future, it’s going to be difficult for the governor. But I am focused on making sure that we stand up for the middle class, making sure that we continue to protect our environment in Florida and clean up the oil that’s still in the Gulf, and making sure that we get Floridians back to work. I’m the only candidate that has a real track record and pathway to dealing with the unemployed in Florida, moving into green initiatives and dealing with the transportation woes of Florida.
Florida is a big state. The only rail we have in Florida that runs between counties would be Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County. That must change. We must get high-speed rail in the mid part of the state. I think that when we look at the platforms of the candidates, Governor Crist and Marco Rubio are singing off the same song sheet.
Tavis: Let me ask you right quick, my time is running here, and I don’t want to speculate, but as you well know there’s all kinds of speculation, legitimately, in fact – speculation about how a three-way race in any state, or for that matter, running for president – you’ve got three people running; something’s going to give. It’s going to cut in a variety of ways. How do you see this race cutting with three very well-known people in the race – Kendrick Meek, Marco Rubio, Crist as an Independent?
I had Crist on this show not long ago, some days ago, and he said to me, Congressman, that he is getting support from Republicans and Democrats. There are some who think that Charlie Crist may pull from your base some Democrats.
Meek: Whatever he has he’s not going to be able to keep because he’s not going to be able to answer the straight questions when it comes down to things that Democrats care about. We care about more tax cuts for the middle class and small businesses; he’s not on board with that. When the middle class needed an increase in the minimum wage before the federal government moved on it, he was nowhere to be found.
When it came down to strong leadership on offshore oil drilling, saying no to it off the coast of Florida, that could eventually affect our $63 billion tourism economy, he said, “Maybe we need to explore offshore oil drilling,” and then after the spill saying that he’s against it.
That’s not leadership, and I think when Democrats start looking at a candidate that they can count on that has a track record such as I, that’s a pro-choice candidate such as I, they will make a decision. Charlie Crist is just a vehicle to try to win. Once they find out that he cannot win statistically in Florida, they’re going to rally around my campaign.
Tavis, I think this is going to be a 30-30-30 race. I think it’s going to be about the turnout and I think it’s going to be about Democratic turnout, it’s going to be about Independents turning out and it’s going to be about people of good will within the Republican Party turning out.
I believe in the final analysis our story’s better. I’ve worked harder in this campaign and longer than any other candidate. My story matches up to the everyday Floridian’s story when they sit around a dining room table on how they’re going to educate their children, who’s the fighter in the race and who will work every day on their behalf.
The answer to that is Kendrick Meek and I believe in the final analysis that we will be on top. We’re going to work hard to get there.
Tavis: We’re going to be following this race. As you just heard Congressman Meek say himself, he sees it as a 30-30-30 race. I’m not a math major; that means there ain’t but 10 percent that’s up for grabs. It’s going to be a tight one in Florida come November, and we will follow it every step of the way.
This Sunday we’ll all be watching “Meet the Press” to see the big debate between Marco Rubio and our guest tonight, Congressman Kendrick Meek, the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat out of Florida. Congressman, all the best this Sunday on “Meet the Press.” We’ll be watching, and I’ll talk to you again soon, I’m sure.
Meek: Thank you so very much.
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