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Bill Clinton: I Never Asked Meek to Drop Out

Bill Clinton
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 21: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton speaks during the annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) September 21, 2010 in New York City. The sixth annual meeting of the CGI gathers prominent individuals in politics, business, science, academics, religion and entertainment to discuss global issues such as climate change and the reconstruction of Haiti. The event, founded by Clinton after he left office, is held the same week as the General Assembly at the United Nations, when most world leaders are in New York City. GETTY

Former President Bill Clinton has released a statement claiming he never explicitly asked Democrat Kendrick Meek to drop out of the Florida Senate race and stating that Meek never agreed to do so.

The statement also says, however, that the two men did discuss the "challenges" Meek faced against Republican Marco Rubio and independent Charlie Crist.

"Kendrick Meek is my close friend," Mr. Clinton said. "I have supported his campaign from the beginning, though our relationship extends far beyond politics. We did talk last week following a rally in Orlando about the race and its challenges. I didn't ask Kendrick to leave the race, nor did Kendrick say that he would. I told him that how he proceeds was his decision to make and that I would support him regardless."

"I still believe he could be the best Senator to help Florida and America emerge from the current crisis and build a growing middle class economy," he added.

A report yesterday that Mr. Clinton had attempted to persuade Meek to drop out and throw his support to Crist - who would, in turn, caucus with Democrats if elected - prompted a denial from Meek, who said, "There was never a deal." The original report claimed Meek had agreed to drop out twice before changing his mind and that a date had even been set for an endorsement rally.

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Florida Democratic senate candidate Kendrick Meek, left, hugs former President Bill Clinton as Clinton is introduced during a campaign rally for Meek Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Fla. AP Photo/Steve Nesius

Mr. Clinton's statement follows an interview on CNN in which he said he spoke to Meek twice.

"He was trying to determine what was the best thing for him to do," the former president said. "I knew it was being discussed, people had discussed it on and off... it was no secret."

Mr. Clinton's statement also comes following this, from the New York Times: "Matt McKenna, Mr. Clinton's spokesman, said the former president had concluded that Mr. Meek's candidacy was struggling and was urging him to drop out and endorse Charlie Crist."

Meek said in appearance on CBS' "The Early Show" Friday that "we did not come to any kind of agreement that I would get out of a race."

CBS News has confirmed that the effort to get Meek out of the race originated with Crist, the Florida governor, who reached out to Mr. Clinton through an intermediary to make the appeal. The former president checked with the White House, which had no objections to the move. Meek vacillated but ultimately decided to stay in the race.

A Mason Dixon poll released today found Rubio leading Crist 45 percent to 28 percent among likely voters, with Meek at 21 percent.

More on the Florida Senate race
CBS News Complete Coverage: Election 2010


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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