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Once again, Bill Clinton tries unsuccessfully to nudge an inconvenient Democrat from a Senate race

October 28, 2010 |  7:30 pm

Democrats Representative Kendrick Meek of Florida with president Bill clinton

Once upon a time, former presidents traveled around the country trying to get people of their political ilk elected.

This election cycle, former President Bill Clinton has taken that in a new direction: He's spending some valuable time trying to get fellow Democrats to stop running. 

Remember how Clinton tried to talk Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak out of challenging Republican-turned-Democrat incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter in this year's primary? And for sure didn't exactly offer him some kind of Obama administration job to quit? Maybe. (Sestak declined, booted Specter and is in a tight general election matchup against Republican ex-Rep. Pat Toomey.)

Well, now after campaigning several times for Rep. Kendrick Meek in the crucial Florida Senate seat race, BC is back at it. He's trying -- perhaps on his own, perhaps not -- in these last desperate days to convince Meek to quit, give up, abandon his hopeless Sunshine State struggle.

That's because after both Clinton's campaign help and Barack Obama's campaign help just....

...last week, Meek still badly trails Republican Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist, the Republican governor who discovered he was really an independent when his GOP primary loss to Rubio became imminent. Recent polls indicate "tea party" favorite Rubio, a former state House speaker, continues to dominate the contest with more than 40%, Crist in the low 30s and Meek at 20% or below.

The obvious thinking is, a continued split between Meekand Crist among Democrats and Obama people guarantees a Rubio win. But if Democrat Meek threw his support to non-Democrat Crist, it might be sufficient to upset Rubio.

The expectation is that an supposedly independent Sen. Crist (he of the huge economic stimulus Obama hug onstage last year) would caucus in Washington with Harry Reid's crowd, albeit a diminished one. Think Joe Lieberman and Bernie Saunders.

The story is a disaster for Meek's effort to claim continuing viability for Tuesday's voting. It broke late Thursday on Politico, saying Clinton and go-betweens came ever so close to convincing Meek to become a martyred hero last week.

Politico need not reveal its source to reveal its source. Given the names, times and details provided, it clearly was the Clinton-Obama camp playing hardball the Chicago Way.

Yes, sure, Meek was a loyal, useful African American trooper all over the country in Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful fight against Obama for the Democrats' presidential nomination in 2007-08.

But -- nothing personal just business -- if Meek won't step aside voluntarily, get rid of him involuntarily. Leak word to the hungry press and hope enough of their readers give up on Meek and jump to Crist. Meek's doomed either way.

A Meek spokesman said: "The article is not true. Kendrick Meek was never dropping out of this race, is never dropping out of this race, and will never drop out of this race."

A Crist spokesman said: "While this story is accurate, the governor's focus is on uniting common-sense Democrats, independents, and Republicans behind his campaign."

Not shy about making some of his own mischief in the opposition's camp, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said:

"President Clinton’s actions to have Kendrick Meek withdraw from the campaign sends a chilling signal to all voters, but especially African Americans. One can only imagine the response if Republican leadership tried to force out of the race -- in the 11th hour -- a qualified black candidate like Kendrick Meek.”

Clinton, Obama and gang have an extra, longer-term political incentive to halt Rubio's ascent before he leaves the state and takes the national stage.

Despite initial central party bumbling in Washington over supporting Crist or Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants is seen as a rising young, Republican star, a well-spoken conservative from a very important populous state who's already earned wide support outside Florida. See Rubio here in action in this video.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Associated Press (Clinton and Meek).

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