Kendrick Meek faces numerous questions in his quest for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. Can he survive a primary challenge by billionaire Jeff Greene? Can a little known Congressman from Miami beat a Republican star (Marco Rubio) and a popular sitting governor (Charlie Crist)?
Can he accomplish this with the country’s first black president with approval ratings in the low 40s? Is Florida ready to elect its first black Senator?
But of all the questions Meek faces, the most persistent might be about his relationship with President Barack Obama.
Meek was one of several Congressional Black Caucus members (including all three in Florida) to choose Hillary Clinton over Obama in the 2008 primaries. He continued to support Hillary long after her candidacy ceased to be viable.
“Here’s the deal. I supported Hillary but I wasn’t against Barack Obama,” said Meek, who met the former president while serving as a state trooper on then-Gov. Lawton Chiles’ security detail. “Anyone who understands the relationship between President Clinton and myself and my family knows it wasn’t anything other than a longstanding working and personal relationship.”
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Meek stood by the former president when Bill Clinton was accused of making racially charged comments during the South Carolina primary. Meek, who was there, said Clinton’s response to a question about Obama’s statewide coalition was taken out of context.
That loyalty has earned Meek several fundraisers, plus three personal appearances by Clinton in a single day this week. But it’s also led to speculation that support for Meek from the current White House is tepid; or worse, that Team Obama might be rooting behind the scenes for Crist.
An emotional issue…and a strategic one
For many African-Americans in 2008, “Hillary or Obama?” was an emotionally charged question. (Just ask Tavis Smiley.)
“There are people walking around who have to tell their children and their grandchildren, that because of party, or because they were with Hillary, they could not support the first black president of the United States,” said veteran South Florida radio personality James T” Thomas, who watched his mostly black audience flip from overwhelmingly pro-Hillary in 2006, to pro-Obama by early 2007.
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