Florida Senate Race Could Expose CBC Rifts

Posted June 8, 2009 at 6:38pm

A week after Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) announced that she was forming a Senate exploratory committee, some of her colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus and in the Sunshine State’s Democratic delegation are scratching their heads over the nine-term Congresswoman’s sudden interest in the open-seat race.

If Brown and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) continue on their current paths, it would be the first time that two sitting members of the Congressional Black Caucus challenge each other in a statewide primary.

CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) last week declined to comment on the potential primary matchup between Meek and Brown, calling it “a political matter— that she would not discuss.

But one CBC member described Brown’s decision to begin exploring the race as “a bolt out of the blue,— especially because Meek is viewed as one of the strongest fundraisers in the caucus and Brown is not. The member added that some in the CBC are now wondering if there might be bad blood between Meek and Brown.

Meek said Brown is free to run if she so desires.

“I’ve always been focused on the campaign and not on who is in and who is out,— Meek said.

“There’s no bad blood,— he added. “The Congresswoman and I have worked for over seven years together. She’s a friend of the family and I’m a friend of her family.—

Brown’s announcement that she was forming an exploratory committee came just days after Florida state Sen. Dan Gelber stepped out of the Democratic primary, and it began to look like the field was clearing for Meek. The four-term Congressman’s campaign gained momentum after a strong early fundraising performance — he reported $1.8 million raised in the first quarter of the year — and the endorsement of some major union groups.

If Brown goes ahead with her campaign, one CBC member hinted that the race could expose a generational split that has been growing within the caucus as civil rights-era Members retire and younger black Members are elected. The member said there has been some speculation about whether Meek had “paid his dues— while the nine-term Congresswoman had “put in her time.—

But, for the most part, several CBC members said, there wasn’t any animosity in the caucus over Brown’s exploratory announcement.

“I think it’s great,— said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), who knocked off former Rep. Albert Wynn (D), an eight-term member of the CBC, in the 2008 primary.

“You’re talking to someone who believes in competition,— Edwards said, adding that she believes Brown is “a fighter.—

Another CBC member said it was a good sign that the country had progressed to a point where two black Members could face each other in a primary for a statewide office without worrying what the racial implications might be.

Still another member speculated that some CBC members who have already given to Meek will now turn around and give to Brown in an effort to “make it fair.—

But not every member of the CBC plans to stay neutral.

“I am an early supporter of Congressman Kendrick Meek,— said Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), the immediate past chairwoman of the CBC. “I will continue to support him.—

Florida Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings, a fellow CBC member who came to Congress in the same class as Brown and Meek’s mother, former Rep. Carrie Meek (D-Fla.), also gave some indication as to where his loyalty will lie in the Sunshine State primary.

Hastings said he certainly doesn’t “discourage democracy,— but he pointed out that he “encouraged Kendrick to enter the race,— and he was also one of the first Members to send him a check.

Besides Hastings, about 20 other House Members have donated to Meek’s campaign, according to first-quarter Federal Election Commission reports. No other Florida Democrats were listed in those filings.

A spokesman for Meek’s fellow Miami-based colleague, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D), declined to comment on the potential primary matchup but noted that Wasserman Schultz has attended a Meek fundraiser.

For the most part, members of the state’s Democratic delegation tried to stay neutral when asked last week about Brown’s exploratory effort.

“I’m completely focused on my job and representing my constituents,— freshman Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.) said.

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) said there’s still a long way to go before the August 2010 primary, and a lot will likely change between now and then.

Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.) agreed.

“There’s time for this to work itself out,— he said. “If [Brown] can raise the money, if she’s got the political support statewide, she’s got to assess that for herself, because it’s a risk of up or out.—

Like Klein, freshman Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) has not backed anyone in the Democratic primary, though he said he might endorse a candidate down the road.

“And as far as I’m concerned, the same that’s always true is true here: May the strongest candidate win,— Grayson said.

Brown said in a release that her entry into the race was precipitated by a survey that showed her tied with Meek in a hypothetical matchup — although the poll showed both are hardly known outside their home territories.

The winner of the primary will likely go on to face Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) in the general election, although former state Speaker Marco Rubio is also running to the right of Crist in the Republican primary.