Bill Clinton Nearly Convinced Kendrick Meek to Drop Senate Bid

Florida Senate: Marco Rubio (R) vs. Kendrick Meek (D) vs. Charlie Crist (I) AP Photo

Marco Rubio (R) vs. Kendrick Meek (D) vs. Charlie Crist (I)
AP Photo

Bill Clinton twice persuaded Florida Democrat Kendrick Meek to drop his Senate bid in an effort - but Meek ultimately changed his mind and elected to stay in the race, according to a report in Politico.

Note: Meek has denied that Clinton induced him to drop out of the Senate race. Click here to read that story.

Had Meek withdrawn and backed Charlie Crist, it would have been a major boon to the Republican-turned-independent, who is trailing Republican Marco Rubio in the Senate race. Crist dropped out of the GOP primary amid sings he would lose to Rubio, and speculation in Washington is that the moderate Florida governor would caucus with Democrats if elected.

Meek, who is in third place in the polls, reportedly twice agreed to drop out but decided not to thanks in part to his wife's belief he could still win the race. Politico reports an endorsement rally had even been planned for October 26th.

"The argument was: 'You can be a hero here. You can stop him, you can change this race in one swoop," one Democrat told Politico. Clinton spokesman Matt McKenna confirmed to the outlet the former president's involvement in discussions, though not the details.

"Meek was to give Crist his blessing and explain to his disappointed supporters -- many of whom deeply distrust the governor, who was elected as a Republican -- that their votes could save the Senate for the Democrats and save America from the rise of Rubio, who is viewed both as a hard-line conservative and a potential national figure," reports Ben Smith, who writes that the White House knew about the effort but did not initiate it.

Mr. Clinton and Meek shared a hug during a campaign rally for Meek on Oct. 19th in St. Petersburg.

A Quinnipiac University poll released today found Rubio leading Crist 42 percent to 35 percent among likely voters, with Meek at 15 percent.

Update 7 p.m. ET: Crist's campaign put out a statement following release of Politico's report:  "While this story is accurate, the Governor's focus is on uniting common-sense Democrats, independents, and Republicans behind his campaign because he is the one candidate who can defeat Tea Party extremist Marco Rubio and deliver bipartisan results for Florida in Washington."

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Brian Montopoli is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.

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