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The Hill profile on Kendrick Meek

in Statewide by
When Rep. Kendrick Meek talks about his Senate campaign, you’d never know he trails by 30 points and is being all but counted out by just about everyone who knows anything about Florida politics.

“The kind of campaign that we’re running I think will be book material when we’re done,” the Florida Democrat says, adding later: “I think — as a matter of fact I know — that we’re gonna be the biggest story in this campaign.”

Far be it from any candidate to predict failure, but the supremely confident Meek redefines “quixotic.”

Facing the probability of a general-election match-up with a Republican governor whom 60 percent of Democrats like, Meek is working like few candidates before or after him. He got started early — to the surprise of many — and has quietly plodded his way to solid fundraising numbers and the endorsement of just about every major Democratic group that matters in politics.

His potential match-up with Gov. Charlie Crist (R) is of a far different scale than his mother, Carrie’s, first run for the Florida state House, but the parallels are plenty. Carrie Meek was a single mother of three working at the local community college in the late 1970s when she decided to run a race against far more seasoned politicos. Few gave her a chance, and many questioned her decision, Meek said.

Her 12-year-old son Kendrick wasn’t immediately smitten with politics — or the long nights spent at mom’s legislative office — but it caught up to him eventually. Now he’s running for an office that was mythical to them when she became the first black woman in the state Senate in 1982.

“My mother always said our opponents are sleeping in shifts, and that keeps me motivated even today,” he said. “My mother had more courage than I had in making the decision to run.”

The other parallel that will inevitably be drawn if Meek makes a race out of it occurred much more recently and on an even bigger scale — Obama 2008, to be exact.

Such is your lot when you are the young, African-American underdog set to take on an older, white political pro. Meek proudly calls himself “the tallest candidate south of the Mason-Dixon.”

But in this case, Meek has both the Obamas and the Clintons on his side. And it could be a powerful alliance.

A close friend of the former president and early endorser of his wife’s presidential campaign, Meek has reaped the benefits of three fundraising assists from Bill Clinton. And he got a significant nod to his rising star from Obama when the president invited him, alongside much higher-ranking members of Congress, on a trip to the Summit of the Americas in April.

Obama is, for now, an asset in a state he won in November’s election. Clinton appears more of a mixed bag after his close political confidant, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, crashed and burned in Virginia’s Democratic primary for governor.

“I don’t consider myself the Clinton candidate in the race,” Meek said. “My campaign will not totally depend on Bill Clinton and his presence in the state of Florida.”

Despite the high-profile help, Meek is hardly Democrats’ best hope for winning a seat nationwide, and they aren’t overly excited about his prospects. Much of their focus seems to be on hoping former state House Speaker Marco Rubio can knock Crist off in a primary.

A Meek-Rubio match-up would pit two young and little-known minority candidates against each other in what would be a fair fight from day one.

Of course, that assumes Meek makes it through the Democratic primary, in which family friend Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) has opened an exploratory committee.

The 62-year-old Brown’s potential candidacy contrasts starkly with that of the baby-faced fourth-term congressman 20 years her junior, and she would be an underdog.

Meek said he was well-aware of Brown’s Senate ruminations, having spoken with her periodically over the last four months.

“I don’t consider it a problem — the fact that she has an exploratory committee,” Meek said. “But I can say that, as people of good will … it’s important that we organize the state in a way that we can win the U.S. Senate seat on the Democratic side.”

But even as he’s favored in a Democratic primary, Meek is likely to face overwhelming odds in the general election. And it should be overwhelming to a politician who hasn’t ever run a difficult federal race or a difficult race, period, in more than a decade.

Meek unseated a longtime Democratic incumbent in a 1998 state Senate race and, four years prior, forced another longtime state representative into retirement by proceeding with a primary challenge.

The primary challenges led to controversy, which followed him when he won his mother’s congressional seat in 2002; her retirement came so shortly before the filing deadline that it gave few but her son a chance to mount a campaign. He wound up unopposed in an open-seat race.

Meek insists the “opportunist” label is better suited for Crist, who has moved quickly up the political ladder. The congressman talks a lot about his personal narrative as a former state trooper who rose through the ranks in politics and fought the good fight.

“I’m the genuine candidate for the U.S. Senate,” he says repeatedly.

And, exuding even more confidence, he said he’s given himself plenty of time to close the gap in his likely general-election match-up, which a GOP poll showed Crist leading 59-29 earlier this month.

“I’m gonna go up, and my opponents are gonna come down,” he said. “You don’t go from 60 to 90. You don’t go from 60 to 80. You go from 30 to 40. You go from 40 to 50, and beyond.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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