jeff-greene-kendrick-meek_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

Four months of a bitter battle between rivals Congressman Kendrick Meek and Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene came to a head at the polls Tuesday when Meek demolished his opponent in the Democratic  race for the U.S. Senate.

After enduring an attack on his mother, an attack on his character and an outpouring of millions by his opponent, Meek defeated Greene by a wide margin.

But what lies ahead is an even tougher fight against Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned Independent governor, and Tea Party favorite, Republican Marco Rubio, in the general election Nov. 2.

Meek remained confident Tuesday night as he savored his primary victory with supporters at the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood that he would become the next U.S. Senator from Florida.

Flanked by his wife Leslie, his children and his mother, former Congresswoman Carrie Meek, the four-term congresswoman was jubilant that he had overcome Greene’s money advantage.

“We kept the faith. We kept marching on. We listened,” he told the gathering.

The preliminary count showed Meek garnered 513,500 or 57.2 percent of 896,754 of the votes, compared to 280,246 or 31.2 percent for Greene, who spent about $25 million in what was one of the most hotly contested races in recent memory.

If Greene had won, Meek said, he would not have endorsed him, even once calling Greene “a bad person.”

“The state of Florida is not for sale, will not be for sale,” Meek said.

Greene reached out Tuesday night to Meek, phoning him to concede the election, offering his blessings and pledging his full support to the man he had often called a “corrupt career politician.”

Meek thanked Greene for his support, making it perhaps the most civil moment for the two candidates since Greene entered the race April 30.

“If we’ve learned anything in this campaign, it’s that people in this state had the opportunity to see the muddiness of politics. But let me tell you something: When you’re dealing with the muddiness of life, you can count on me.  I will not bail out on you.  I will not leave you behind,” Meek told the gathering at his victory celebration.

At one point in July, Meek trailed Greene by 10 points in some polls but his confidence didn’t waiver.  He began to build momentum just weeks before Tuesday’s election and his campaign got perhaps its biggest boost two weeks ago when former President Bill Clinton came to stump for his friend at three campaign rallies, one each in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties the same day.

During the same week, Meek joined President Barack Obama at a Democratic fundraiser in Miami Beach and they made an impromptu stop at a South Beach deli, where they had sandwiches. It was a great photo op, considering the President had been criticized for not showing enough public support of Meek. Obama endorsed Meek during a speech at the fundraising event.

When Meek thanked both presidents Tuesday night, the crowd applauded at the mention of Obama’s name but went wild with applause at the mention of Clinton’s name.

Though Meek welcomed such star power, he said it was his faith that kept him believing he would win not only in the primary but also in the general election in November.

He was so confident that he would win Tuesday’s primary, that even before the polls closed in Florida’s Panhandle, Meek was already presuming he was the winner in a conference call with the black press.

“Tonight’s victory,” he said, could be attributed to their efforts, he told the journalists.

Despite such optimism, most polls show Meek trailing a distant third behind  Crist and Rubio in a three-way race. Crist is wooing Democratic voters with some success since ditching the Republican Party and becoming an Independent after he realized he had no chance of beating Rubio in the Republican primary.
Meek is not impressed.

“I’m running against two conservatives who have similar records,” he told supporters Tuesday night. “I’m the only real Democrat in this race.”

Joanna Chestnut, of Fort Lauderdale, believes Meek can pull off another victory.

“I knew he would win this one. But now we’re ready for November,” she said as she celebrated Tuesday night.

Carrie Meek, the candidate’s mother who is a revered politician especially in Miami-Dade, said Florida needs her son in the U.S. Senate. “He’s the one who can do most for the people of Florida,” she said minutes after he wrapped up his speech. “We need him. He has the background, the knowledge, the know-how and the spirit to represent Florida in the United States Senate.  He’s the one who will carry this state further.”

Meek wrapped up his victory speech by telling supporters he would again beat the odds.

“If anything came out of this primary, it showed that this campaign had the strength, the integrity, the will and the desire to win against the odds,” he said, adding he was comfortable being the underdog. “I will become your next United States Senator from Florida,” he shouted to the cheering crowd.

Photo: Jeff Greene, left, and Kendrick Meek.