In a surprise move, Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek is set to announce his candidacy for Florida’s open Senate seat at a press conference tomorrow morning.
Meek is a relatively young lawmaker (he is 42), but he is already serving his fourth term in the House. He served in the state legislature for eight years prior to his election to Congress, so he won his first election to the state Assembly at 28 years old. Interestingly, Meek is known to be close to Rep. Tim Ryan, who is currently considering a run for Ohio’s Senate seat.
Meek, who is African-American, has a relatively progressive profile, though that could be due more to his district’s ultra-Democratic profile (see below) than to his own ideological leanings. Meek has attracted criticism for not being as liberal as a Democrat can afford to be in such a blue district; and many in the blogosphere were annoyed at his refusal to help the Democratic challengers to three Republican House incumbents in 2008.
Meek’s move shuffles our calculations about this race, to say the least.
Until today, it looked like state CFO Alex Sink would have the Democratic field to herself if she chose to jump in the race; other candidates were expected to defer to her decision. The possibility that Sink could emerge as the party’s uncontested nominee while Republicans split in a divisive primary was a major source of Democratic optimism.
That possibility now looks to have vanished. If Sink jumps in, she will face Meek in the primary, and a seating U.S. representative certainly qualifies as more than just “token opposition.” Furthermore, former state Senator Dan Gelber is said to be nearing a final decision, so it looks like Meek is not the only Democrat not to be waiting for Sink’s decision.
In fact, by declaring that he will run for Senate early and before Sink makes her final decision, Mink is probably trying to scare Sink away from the race. The state CFO would be far more likely to jump in the race if she did not have to worry about a contested primary, and the prospect of facing a sitting representative (and perhaps even other contenders) could weigh heavily on her mind.
If Sink does not jump in, other Democrats (like Reps. Boyd and Klein) will probably join Meek in the race. That would create an unpredictable primary that would delay the emergence of a clear general election nominee until September 2010. (Florida’s primaries are held late, which increases the pressure to avoid too bruising primaries.)
Thankfully for Democrats, Republicans look like they could follow a similar script ever since Jeb Bush announced he would not run. If both parties hold wide open primaries, this race could look like Florida’s previous open seat contest held in 2004: It was very difficult to say anything meaningful about that election until the parties settled their primaries two months before the November vote.
On the other hand, a Democratic primary without Sink could be far more unpredictable than the Republican primary, where probable candidate Marco Rubio should be considered as the early favorite. That could lead to a repeat of the 2006 gubernatorial race: Both parties held competitive primaries, but Charlie Crist emerged as the Republican nominee without breaking too much of a sweat while his Democratic opponent (then-Rep. Jim Davis) was too damaged by his primary battle.
Meek’s move will also leave his district open. FL-17 is a solidly Democratic district that gave Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama more than 80% of the vote. In other words, FL-17 is bluer than any red district is Republican; it’s even bluer than William Jefferson’s New Orleans district. Needless to say, all of the action will take place in the Democratic primary, and the GOP has no chance of picking up this seat.