So how desperate are the Democrats to keep control of the U.S. Senate? The answer is fairly clear in a story that appeared Thursday evening on Politico.com that quotes spokesmen for former President Bill Clinton claiming he tried to convince Democratic Florida Congressman Kendrick Meek last week to drop his flagging candidacy for the U.S. Senate and clear the way for Florida Governor Charlie Crist to defeat the Republican front-runner, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio.Clinton spokesman Matt McKenna told Politico that Clinton's argument to Meek was: "'You can be a hero here. You can stop [Rubio], you can change this race in one swoop." Crist, a moderate who bolted the GOP last spring to run as an independent, said Thursday night the Politico piece was accurate. "How do I know?" he said on MSNBC. "Because I had numerous phone calls with people very close to President Clinton." But Meek, who before the piece posted had dropped to a dismal 15% in a new Quinnipiac poll Wednesday, called the report - which even indicates that at one point he had agreed to announce on Oct. 25 that he was dropping out but changed his mind at the last minute - "absolutely not true," and his campaign vowed he would not quit.
Whether true or not, leading Florida Democrats tell TIME, the goal of Clinton and the national Dems was to plant door-closing doubts about Meek in the minds of the state's Democratic voters and persuade them to mark their ballots for Crist, who is widely expected to caucus with the Democrats should he win the open Senate seat. "We've all been hearing for more than a week now that Kendrick was considering [dropping out]," says one state Democratic leader. The Politico story, he adds, "sends a strong message to Democratic voters that there is no chance of him winning and they should vote for Crist."