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Thinking about Kendrick Meek, the Myth of Sisyphus and whether Dan Gelber regrets dropping out of the U.S. Senate race

in Peter/Statewide by
Over the holiday break, I couldn’t help but keep up with the wonderful, wintery updates coming from Steve Schale’s Facebook page, as he shared with us photo after photo of a snowed-over North Carolina. This led me to further wonder if Steve has any second thoughts about Senator Dan Gelber’s decision to cede the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat to Congressman Kendrick Meek.

At the time when Gelber withdrew from the Senate race to run for Attorney General, the act appeared both magnanimous and the smart course of action for Gelber. The conventional wisdom said that even if Gelber were to overcome Meek to win the Democratic nomination, Gelber would eventually lose to a “very formidable” (Gelber’s words) Charlie Crist.

So much for conventional wisdom. Less than a year later, Crist is barely clinging to his lead over an insurgent Marco Rubio. And Meek has yet to build any momentum for his campaign, as reflected in poll after poll. So, the question lingers, does Dan Gelber regret his decision to drop out of the U.S. Senate race?

Gelber’s campaign recently posted some lackluster fundraising numbers, but he probably would have had an easier time raising money if he were for the US Senate. Regardless, he would probably be no further behind Meek (relatively) than Rubio is behind Crist.

Understand, one of the unspoken strengths of Rubio’s campaign is that his supporters know they can go for broke against Crist because they think if they win the GOP nomination, they can easily beat Meek in the general election. The traditional dilemna Republicans face about choosing between the candidate who is electable vs. the one is more conservative no longer applies in this race.

Sme of Meek’s supporters think Meek benefits from the intramural contest between Crist and Rubio as if Meek can just wait it out until September.

As one blogger who supports Meek wrote to me: “I *want* to be optimistic about Meek, but I’m just not seeing it yet. Besides, all the oxygen is around Rubio/Crist. Meek needs to start talking policy — heavy, detailed stuff — and soon, and often. He’s running out of time.”

The danger for Meek’s campaign is the double standard it set for itself with the decision to qualify for the ballot by petition. Meek has made the petition gathering process the focal point of the campaign, yet the Sisyphean task of collecting almost 112,000 signatures may be impossible.

As of this moment, the Florida Division of Election reports Meek has only 10,604 signatures verified out of the requisite 112,476. In November, I asked Meek’s campaign manager Abe Dyk about where the campaign was in its drive to collect the requisite number of signatures and I got the runaround about the campaign having thousands of collected petitions which had not been turned in because the information on the petitions had not been data-entered into the campaign’s computers. At the time, this made sense. But when Dyk provided this same answer during a conference call last week with several bloggers, I began to doubt how far along the campaign really is on its drive to get on the ballot. So I (along with fellow blogger Robin Miller) pressed Dyk further for a specific number. Eventually, he stated that “more than half” of the required number of signatures have been collected.

(Update: In response to this article, Kenneth Quinnell informed me that the Kendrick Meek has turned in at least 40,000 signatures to the various Supervisors of Election in Florida. Many thousands more signatures have been collected and await being inputted into the campaign’s database.)

That means Meek’s campaign needs to collect at least 55,000 signatures (using volunteers, mind you. Meek has said he would not pay petition-gatherers) over the next two months.

The enormity of Meek’s task reminded me of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus:

The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.

But, as Camus recognizes, “All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning” and that, eventually, “in that daily effort in which intelligence and passion mingle and delight each other, the absurd man discovers a discipline that will make up the greatest of his strengths.”

If Meek is able to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot — and more importantly, demonstrate the organizational strength of his campaign — than he will have found, like Camus describes Sisyphus, that “the struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Meek/Sisyphus happy.”

But if Meek stumbles pushing his rock up the heights, Dan Gelber’s decision to withdraw from the U.S. Senate race will have all the makings of its own Greek tragedy.

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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