Primary Politics In The Sunshine State

The Florida primary races have the elements of great political drama: high stakes, complicated characters and dramatic plot twists. Phil Latzman, a reporter for the Miami Herald and NPR member station WLRN offers an update on tomorrow’s Senate and gubernatorial primary elections in Florida.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALLISON KEYES, host:

I'm Allison Keyes. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, tomorrow sees primary elections in a handful of potentially bellwether states, including Arizona, as we look to the November midterm election. Arizona's tough anti-illegal law was stayed by a judge last month. But a major supporter of those measures, John McCain is looking strong in his Senate battle. We'll talk about his once-tight race and that to the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle who's tangling with an African-American Republican. That's in just a few minutes.

But first, we look to the primaries in Florida, where campaigning has been as boisterous as spring break. The contest for Senate and governor both have wealthy candidates pouring cash into their campaigns, yet trailing their opposition. A major point in Florida is that Republican-turned-independent Governor Charlie Crist isn't running for governor this time. He is, as you may know, running for Senate.

Joining us from Miami, we have reporter Phil Latzman on the line with us. Thanks, Phil, for joining us.

Mr. PHIL LATZMAN (Reporter): Allison, my pleasure.

KEYES: Let's start out with the Senate race. You've got a Democratic congressman, Kendrick Meek, who is trying to become the first black senator from Florida. His opponent, Jeff Greene is a billionaire real estate developer, who spent about 23 million of his own dollars on the campaign and he's never before held office. How's that contest looking?

Mr. LATZMAN: Well, for a while it was looking like Jeff Greene, a billionaire who was once a Republican, once lived in California and ran for office and came here and made his money on shorting the real estate market and has spent some of his billions on campaign ads, many millions of it, was leading Kendrick Meek by a significant margin in the past couple of weeks. That has changed, and Congressman Meek has regained his lead.

In fact, there's a new poll that's out just on the eve of the election, which shows Congressman Meek up 39 to 29 percent over Jeff Greene for that Democratic Senate nomination. So right now, it looks like experience is overtaking money in at least the Democratic Senate race.

KEYES: What turned it around?

Mr. LATZMAN: I think that there has been a lot of allegations against Jeff Greene related to debauchery, related to the fact that he, say, for instance, took his yacht to Cuba. And this has gotten a lot of play down here. He had said during a debate that he had taken it there on a Jewish humanitarian mission and that he had to backtrack and say, no, it wasn't that, it was to refuel.

And, of course, nobody can just go to Cuba. There are travel restrictions in place, which Congress is debating now. But he sort of made up that whole story. And there has been a lot of stories about his debaucherous ties. He had Mike Tyson as his best man at his wedding.

KEYES: Right.

Mr. LATZMAN: Sort of a party boy image. That may be catching up to him right now.

KEYES: And these two have also been having a bit of, shall we say, a spat over Israel, right?

Mr. LATZMAN: Well, it's always a big issue here and the Jewish vote is key, especially in South Florida. And I think that Jeff Greene, who is from Palm Beach, where there's a big Jewish population, has been campaigning hard in the Jewish communities looking to take away that vote from Kendrick Meek. And Israel has come up as one of the main issues there that I think Jeff Greene accuses the Meek campaign of not paying enough attention to.

KEYES: Talk to us a little bit about the help that President Obama and former President Clinton have been giving to Meek, I believe. Is that a positive or a negative this year?

Mr. LATZMAN: It's been a big positive for, I think, former President Bill Clinton is more popular down here than current President Barack Obama, no question about that. The former president was out at a rally for Kendrick Meek last Monday. They had to originally had planned for 700, 800 people. They had to increase it to, like, a 2,000-seat venue so they could accommodate all the Clinton people.

And that, really, I think has made a big difference. If any endorsement helps, it's that one that Bill Clinton putting who said, I love Kendrick Meek, his quote exactly a week ago today. So he's gotten that big boost from Bill Clinton.

But Barack Obama, who was here last week, his poll numbers are down I think everywhere, but especially here with unemployment at 11.5 percent. A lot of people are kind of frustrated. But he, I don't think is as much a help to Kendrick Meek as Bill Clinton would be.

KEYES: How is Governor Crist factoring into the primaries tomorrow? Is he just kind of waiting in the wings for the final vote in November?

Mr. LATZMAN: He's got his hands clasped behind his head and he's got his feet up on the desk...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LATZMAN: ...watching the results come in, because he doesn't have to worry. Of course back in April he decided to become NPA, as we call it down here no party affiliation. He's an independent. He's going to wait it out, see what happens in that Senate primary between Meek and Greene and then he's going to go after those Democratic voters, no question, in November trying to steal them away. And he has a pretty good chance of doing that as an independent, who really has championed some Democratic causes, things that have made him the enemy of the Republicans and certainly he's closer to the Democrats right now than he is the Republicans, I would think.

KEYES: What about the Tea Party candidate, Marco Rubio? He's been a little bit less strident lately, hasn't he?

Mr. LATZMAN: Well, I mean, he's the Republican candidate and he's also been kind of sitting back and watching all of this. And I think you'd be surprised to see how he might drift a little bit away from the Tea Party once the general election starts and maybe he can come more to the middle. But it'll be interesting.

He's been at public appearances and he's been pretty much ignoring, I think, the primaries, the Democratic nods. And I think, you know, we're just waiting for that next thing to kick in and certainly Wednesday, when he has the chance to see who he's going against as a Democrat, he'll be a lot more vocal. We'll be hearing a lot more from the Rubio campaign.

KEYES: Really briefly, what's your take on the gubernatorial race? You've got Rick Scott with his $50 million loan to his campaign, running against the Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum.

Mr. LATZMAN: Yeah, if he spent $40 million so far, I guess he might bombard the airwaves with more. This is a millionaire, former health care executive whose company, not him personally, but his company was fined $1.7 billion in fines by the federal government for Medicare fraud. He was exonerated and got a golden parachute. Spent tons of money on TV ads attacking Bill McCollum. And he talked about Arizona.

Arizona has factored in because, really, they're trying to out-Arizona each other. One is claiming that they'll have stricter laws than Arizona when it comes to immigration and that's what Scott's been attacking McCollum on, that McCollum has flip-flopped and it's been a very interesting race.

KEYES: Phil, sorry, got to cut you off because we actually are going to talk about Arizona in just a moment. Phil Latzman of Miami member station WLRN joined us to preview tomorrow's Florida primary elections. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. LATZMAN: My pleasure, Allison.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.