Numbers rising, Senate hopeful Meek cruises through Tampa

09/27/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Months ago, US Representative Kendrick Meek was cast as a long shot in the race for Florida’s open US Senate Seat. But the Miami Democrat has been making his rounds, and has a boost in the polls to show for it.

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon. Kendrick Meek is making his way around Tampa International Airport shaking hands with TIA staffers and travelers, urging them to vote. He says he’s here to learn about the concerns of airport workers.

Meek, who says he did a stint as a skycap back in the day, gets an earful from one dissatisfied worker.

Meek announced his candidacy in January of 2009, but even six months ago not many knew who he was. Then the Senate race got weird. Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who faced former State House Speaker Marco Rubio in a brutal Republican primary, flew the GOP coop. Meek had an ugly primary fight of his own against billionaire Jeff Greene. Now, the latest Mason-Dixon poll shows Rubio in the lead with 40 points. Crist places second with 28 points, and Meek polls at 23. That’s a five-point increase for Meek and a five-point slip for Crist. Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker said, “Crist is bleeding Democrats to Meek and independents to both Meek and Rubio.” Meek says that’s a good sign.

Still, Meek faces an uphill climb in siphoning votes from Crist, who is fighting to present himself as an absolute centrist, and has backing from some Democrats. The Florida Education Association has endorsed both candidates. Crist won over Florida teachers when he vetoed Senate Bill Six, also known as the teacher tenure bill. Meek says that among what differentiates him from Crist on education is that Meek does not support Amendment Eight, which would weaken the class size amendment Florida voters adopted in 2002.

Meek supporters among Democrats include President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, US Senator Bill Nelson, and US Representative Kathy Castor. Former Vice President Al Gore plans to stump for him in Tampa Thursday. Some were surprised when Democratic former Representative Robert Wexler, a self-proclaimed “fire-breathing liberal” from South Florida, said Sunday he is endorsing Crist. Meek says Wexler’s endorsement of the Governor doesn’t scare him.

The thin crowd at Tampa International seems an apt litmus test for Meek.

Some recognize him instantly; others have no clue as to the identity of the towering former state trooper that’s shaking their hand. Spring Hill resident Joyce Lindsay, who’s traveling to Biloxi, is a fan.

Kelly McGaughey, who is checking in his luggage for a flight to Chicago, says while he typically votes Republican, he’s not so sure about who gets his vote this time around.

Meek spends the better part of an hour chatting up everyone he can before hopping in the car to do the same in Orlando. He says being on the campaign trail is a 24-7 affair, and that he takes a picture of the sunrise every day. His next Tampa visit, with former Vice President Al Gore, is Thursday at 4:45 pm at the Tampa Letter Carriers Hall.

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