On Friday, the CBS Early Show and NBC's Today avoided any discussion of the Democratic Party's racial insensitivity in trying to get black Florida senate candidate Kendrick Meek to drop out of the race. On ABC's Good Morning America, co-host George Stephanopoulos quoted Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele on that very issue.
All three network morning shows conducted interviews with Meek, but only Stephanopoulos asked if the candidate was offended by the notion that Democratic Party officials were trying to force him out: "Michael Steele put out a statement last night where he said, 'Even the conversations sent a chilling signal to all voters.' He went on to say, 'One can only imagine the response if Republican leadership tried to force out of the race in the 11th hour a qualified black candidate like Kendrick Meek.' Were you offended by these conversations?" Meek replied by implying Steele was playing the race card: "Let's put it this way, I mean, you know the reason why Michael Steele put out the statement and I'll just leave it at that."
All three networks did suggest that Meek quitting the race would be the best way to defeat Republican Marco Rubio. Stephanopoulos observed: "...some of the polling does suggest that if you got out it would give Governor Crist a much better chance of winning and denying the seat to Marco Rubio. Are you worried that by staying in you will hand the seat to Marco Rubio and the Republicans?" On Today, co-host Meredith Vieira fretted: "And if for some reason Marco Rubio wins this race and you are perceived to be the spoiler by your own party, are you worried that this could destroy your political career in going forward or severely damage it?" Early Show co-host Maggie Rodriguez similarly asked: "...would you consider dropping out if it meant keeping tea party favorite Marco Rubio from winning this thing?"
Here is a full transcript of Stephanopoulos's October 29 interview with Meek:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And for more on what did and did not go down in Florida, we're joined by the man in the middle, Congress Congressman Kendrick Meek, the Democratic candidate for Senate. Thanks for getting up early this morning, Congressman. Your denial at the press conference last night was pretty careful. You said that "any rumor or statement that I made a decision to get out of the race was completely inaccurate." But, did you have discussions with Bill Clinton and others about getting out of the race?
KENDRICK MEEK: Bill Clinton, as you know, George, came down here last week to hold two rallies for me. I'm here in Orlando today- and one in St. Petersburg and, you know, you heard of these reports of last week. Well, now we know that Charlie Crist was calling the Clinton office trying to persuade them to get me out of this race. The President and I talked about it. You know, I told him I didn't have any thoughts of getting out of the race. He didn't encourage me to get out of the race.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Congressman, the accounts are pretty definitive from President Clinton and his aides and others saying you agreed twice to drop out of the race and had discussions with President Clinton's chief of staff and others, Doug Band and others. That there was even an event planned for last Tuesday where you would drop out and endorse Governor Crist. Are you saying all these reports are made up?
MEEK: Let me just say this, George, and I'm going to be very clear with you and with everyone else: President Clinton and I had a discussion. Now, Doug Band or the spokesperson for the Clinton folks were not in the room. I'm going to tell you what the President said. I watched what he said last night. He said we discussed it and that was that and it was done. I mean, it wasn't the fact that I said, hey, I'm on my way out or, yes, I guarantee you I did not say I am not getting out of this race.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Congressman, you're not just down you're way down. The latest polls show you only have about 15 percent of the vote. Governor Crist is much closer, within seven points of Marco Rubio and some of the polling does suggest that if you got out it would give Governor Crist a much better chance of winning and denying the seat to Marco Rubio. Are you worried that by staying in you will hand the seat to Marco Rubio and the Republicans?
MEEK: Charlie Crist is a Republican and he became an independent. And he is against comprehensive health care reform. He is against a woman's right to choose. He's for offshore oil drilling. I don't see myself handing anything to anybody. It is not my prerogative to do that. The people put me on the ballot. I'm the first candidate in the history of the state to qualify by petition. I overwhelmingly won the Democratic primary. I guarantee you, George, that I will get more than 15 percent of the vote and it will be shocking to some in some of the pundits and I challenge the people of the state of Florida to go out and vote and that's the bottom line and people should go out to vote and have their voice heard.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One type question: Michael Steele put out a statement last night where he said "Even the conversations sent a chilling signal to all voters." He went on to say "One can only imagine the response if Republican leadership tried to force out of the race in the 11th hour a qualified black candidate like Kendrick Meek." Were you offended by these conversations?
MEEK: Let's put it this way, I mean, you know the reason why Michael Steele put out the statement and I'll just leave it at that.
A full transcript of Meek on NBC's Today:
MEREDITH VIEIRA: So did Bill Clinton float the idea of Democrat Kendrick Meek dropping out of Florida's Senate race? Congressman Meek is with us now. Congressman, good morning to you sir.
REP. KENDRICK MEEK: Good morning, Meredith.
VIEIRA: So let us set the record straight, did Bill Clinton ever ask you explicitly or implicitly to drop out of the race for Senator?
MEEK: No ma'am. When he came down here and he had a, two rallies for me, here, one in Orlando where I am now and one in St. Petersburg, we talked about reports of the, of the week before and I told him that I'm not interested in getting out of the race. He said, "Well, okay." We talked about it and that was that. I never once told him that I was getting out and he never once asked me to get out.
VIEIRA: What do you mean you talked about the reports of a week before? What reports are you referring to?
MEEK: Well there were reports that were pushed out there by the Charlie Crist campaign that I was considering getting out of the race. As soon as I won the Democratic nomination, his campaign started on that. I never once said I was going to get out, never once seriously considered getting out of the race. I'm too busy running to win the race.
VIEIRA: And yet a spokesperson for former President Clinton said to us last night that Clinton tried to convince you that if you did quit, independent Governor Charlie Crist would be able to beat Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio. So even if he didn't explicitly ask you to get out, wasn't that the message?
MEEK: That was not the message. The bottom line is that we have some smart voters down here in Florida and they're gonna vote for the candidate of their choice.
VIEIRA: Again, I'm trying to get that record straight. Did Clinton ever discuss with you, the possibility of dropping out?
MEEK: No he, what he said, he's been in a position before when he was down in the polls. He said he's lost a few campaigns, he said that he's won quite a few and he still made it to the presidency. That's not what I'm running for, I'm running to be the next United States Senator. We talk all the time. He's one of the biggest supporters I have in this, in this particular campaign. He's done over 11 events for me. And so we were talking before we went on stage. You know, as you know, Bill Clinton, he loves to talk politics, but he never once kind of painted a scenario of me getting out and helping Charlie Crist as a prima facie...
VIEIRA: He does love to talk politics and I know last night on CNN he talked about you, specifically. I'm want to play you a little bit of what he said and then we'll discuss it on the other side.
BILL CLINTON: Trying to decide what to do, and I talked to him and, and I told him that, we went through everything. We talked about it a couple of times and I said in the end, you know, he would have to do what he thought was right. He'd have to do what he felt best about, felt right about.
VIEIRA: See it sounds like he's suggesting you were considering dropping out. That you were going through the scenarios, all the scenarios with him.
MEEK: No what, what he is suggesting, what his suggestion was, was, you know, "Kendrick you're in a, you're in a race. The people of the state of Florida are going to have to vote the way they would like to vote." And the real issue here is that he never once said you need to drop out. I never once said, "Hey, I'm gonna drop out, what do you think?" Or "I'm not gonna drop out, what do you think?"
VIEIRA: So who do you think are behind, who do you think are behind these rumors then?
MEEK: Well I can tell you there's some very, you know that, that, that'll be, that's a very good question Meredith and I don't know. I'm just a guy down here running for the United States Senate. I'm the only pro-choice candidate.
VIEIRA: You may not know, but you must have your suspicions, Congressman Meek, as to who is behind these rumors, if they're not true.
MEEK: Well I can tell you. Well, I mean, Charlie Crist has said, he has called the Clinton people, that he called the White House. I mean I didn't do, I didn't make these phone calls.
VIEIRA: And yet the latest poll shows you with just 15 percent of the vote, so do you really believe you have a chance to win this thing?
MEEK: Let me just say this Meredith, I don't really believe that I'm at 15 percent. I mean that's just the bottom line. I was down by 10 percent before the Democratic primary, I won it by 26 points. I'm just saying let the people of the state of Florida vote. Let them vote, let their voice be heard. The bottom line is, is that I am in this race. I'm a reality in this race and I came on Today show to let everyone know that I'm in this race for all the right reasons. I'm only the pro-choice candidate in this race. I'm the only anti-oil drilling candidate in this race - off the coast of Florida. And I'm supported by the VFW pac and veterans. So, I mean the bottom line is I'm, you know I don't have the prerogative to sit here and say that I'm gonna get out of a race.
VIEIRA: And if for some reason Marco Rubio wins this race and you are perceived to be the spoiler by your own party, are you worried that this could destroy your political career in going forward or severely damage it?
MEEK: Let me tell you what would destroy my political career, if you know, there's, you know a question of my political career, the bottom line is quitting in the middle of a race. I don't do that, and I will not do that to the people of the state of Florida. The people have an opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice. Many, I guarantee you, Meredith, will vote for me. I find myself in a position to win this Demo-, this, this race for the United States Senate. And I'm going to continue to work hard to win it.
VIEIRA: Alright Congressman Kendrick Meek, we're gonna leave it at that. Thank you so much for your time this morning.
MEEK: Thank you.
VIEIRA: And good luck to you.
MEEK: Thank you.
A full transcript of Meek on CBS's Early Show:
MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Joining us now from Orlando is the man at the center of that controversy in Florida, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek. Congressman, good morning.
KENDRICK MEEK: Good morning.
RODRIGUEZ: Have you ever considered dropping out of this race and throwing your support behind Charlie Crist?
MEEK: Absolutely not. And the discussion that President Clinton and I had when he was here in Orlando, where I am now, campaigning, was that he heard of these reports, that I may possibly get out of the race. We talked about it. Obviously, what I know now, Charlie Crist being a very desperate candidate, feeling his pathway to victory is me out of this race, was calling the Clinton office and I didn't know that. But, neither here nor there, we talked about it. I told him that I wasn't interested. He didn't push me to do it. He said, 'listen, whatever decision you make is a decision that you feel that's the right decision.' And I made that decision. It was that I'm staying in the race, like I did before. I mean, I – ever since I won the Democratic primary the Crist camp has been trying to get me out of this race.
RODRIGUEZ: So, why does President Clinton's spokesman confirm that the conversation not only took place but that you twice agreed to drop out of the race and then backed out?
MEEK: That is not true. And that's – I'm going to tell you, President Clinton and I talked. There's no way in the world that anyone can, by name, I mean, these were anonymous – they said that we had a discussion, they confirm that his spokesperson – which is true-
RODRIGUEZ: But his spokesman confirms it.
MEEK: That we had the conversation about the race in general, we did not come to any kind of agreement that I would get out of a race and the President did not push me to do so. I did not tell him that I wanted to do it. We talked about it and that's it. That was the bottom line. There was no – there was no – I mean, let's look at it this way, this report is inaccurate at best. I mean, first it was this thing about a meeting in Jacksonville. The President was never in Jacksonville with me. Then, it was a question of me agreeing twice. I never agreed to it once.
MEEK: And then it came down to it was a rally planned. I mean, this was not – this is – it's just made up. So, I don't know where it came from, but the bottom line is, if there are individuals who feel that they have prima facie evidence to say that I did so, I look forward to them stepping forward and doing what I'm doing right now, talking to you directly. I'm the candidate. My website has blown up overnight, KendrickMeek.com, of words of encouragement and contributions. I'm the Democratic nominee for the United States Senate. I'm the only pro-choice candidate here in Florida, I'm the only candidate endorsed by the VFW pac, Veterans of Foreign Wars. You know, I have a lot of support here and I'm going to do well and I look forward to the people in the state of Florida voting and just like I was down in the primary, I'm saying, you know, I won the primary. I'm saying that let the people vote. And the bottom line is, people are smart. They know who they want to vote for, they know why they're voting.
RODRIGUEZ: But as of right now, Congressman, you're running a distant third and the polls show that if you did drop out, most of your supporters would support Charlie Crist instead. So would you consider dropping out if it meant keeping tea party favorite Marco Rubio from winning this thing?
MEEK: Well, here's the issue. The bottom line is this whole 15% thing in the polls, enough of that. Because, I know bluntly that I will do a lot better than what that particular poll indicates. I am looking forward to continuing to allow the people of the state of Florida to have a chance to vote for the candidate of their choice. That's the bottom line.
RODRIGUEZ: Thank you, Congressman.
MEEK: Thank you. Thank you.