Six weeks to the November elections, and polls show Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek trailing way behind Republican Marco Rubio and Governor Charlie Crist in the three-way race for Florida’s vacant Senate seat.
On Thursday Meek convened a conference call with reporters from Jewish media outlets to shore up support from what should have been a sure bet – Southern Florida’s large Jewish community. According to estimates, Jews make up 3.6% of Florida population, and they lean strongly toward the Democratic side.
But Florida Jews, most concentrated in the southern part of the state and many of them retirees, are also viewed as being more hawkish on issues relating to Israel and therefore more critical of the Obama administration’s approach toward the Jewish state. This criticism, Democrats fear, could drive elderly Jewish voters from Florida’s retirement communities to the arms of Charlie Crist – a Republican turned Independent who was a popular governor and is considered a moderate.
During the call, Meek argued that would be a mistake. “A vote for Charlie Crist, in my opinion, would be a vote to Marco Rubio,” he said. Rubio has the support of the Tea Party movement.
Meek mentioned the fact that three weeks before the Democratic primary he was trailing by 10% and still won decisively on election day. Speaking of what makes him more appealing than Charlie Crist to Jewish voters, Meek stressed his proven record of support for Israel in Congress and his active opposition to privatization of social security. He also pointed to the active support he has received from Florida Jewish lawmakers Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Ron Klein and Ted Deutch.
And one more thing – Meek stressed that while Crist chose not to run in the Republican primary and instead became an Independent, Meek took on a tough opponent – Jewish billionaire Jeff Greene – and still won the support of most Jewish voters.
On relations with Israel, Meek kept a safe distance from the Obama administration. “I’m not President Obama; I’m not running for president,” he said, adding that if elected to the Senate he will “sit with the administration to make sure that all the Jews here in Florida have a voice.”
The first televised debate between Rubio, Crist and Meek will air Friday night. Not much help for Jewish voters, who will be observing Yom Kippur at that time.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Rep. Meek Makes His Case to Florida’s Jews