U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek on Monday gave elections officials the last of the petitions signed by voters to get him on the ballot, capping an almost year-long effort intended to build momentum for his U.S. Senate race.
The petitions — with more than 145,000 names, his campaign says — give Meek a trove of information on sympathetic Florida voters the Miami Democrat will need to take on his Republican rivals who have drawn national attention in the contest.
Flanked by their two children, Meek and his wife, Leslie, signed their own petitions at the Miami-Dade Elections Department in Doral and put the forms in the final box.
“Well, this is it,” Meek said before turning the box over to a clerk. “It’s a message to the state of Florida that we wanted to listen to their needs.”
If elections departments across the state verify 112,476 of the signatures, Meek’s campaign says he will be the first candidate to qualify for statewide office by petition instead of paying a roughly $10,000 qualifying fee.
“It cost a lot more to do it the way we’ve done it — not only financially but in human work-hours,” Meek said, adding that volunteers had been double-checking petitions until the wee hours. “This effort made me a better candidate and I’m sure will make me a better senator.”
Abe Dyk, Meek’s campaign manager, told reporters that the campaign collected signatures all over the state, including thousands in battleground counties like Pinellas and Hillsborough. Meek said he made a point to focus on North Florida, where Democrats need to blunt GOP support to succeed.
Party affiliation doesn’t matter in canvassing for signatures, and Dyk said the campaign gathered signatures from more than 10,000 registered Republicans. Supervisors of elections have until April 19 to certify the signatures, he added.
Meek and a handful of supporters turned in the petitions the day after Republican opponents Gov. Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio faced off on a nationally televised debate on Fox News Sunday.
“I watched some of it,” Meek said. “It was more about the two of them, personal attacks on one another ... than on the issues.”
Earlier, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Meek said he is ready for either of the dueling Republicans but dodged the question of which one he’d rather face. Polls have suggested that both Crist and Rubio hold comfortable leads over Meek.
Also vying for the Democratic nomination is former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre, who is little known outside Miami.
A Mason-Dixon Polling & Research poll released Friday said 52 percent of those surveyed were unfamiliar with Meek, though that is fewer than the 67 percent of voters who did not know who he was last May.
Another Mason-Dixon poll over the weekend suggested support for healthcare reform could hurt Democrats like Meek who, as a congressman, voted twice for the legislation. But Meek said he believes the poll numbers for healthcare will improve as the law takes effect.
“I think when all the dust settles that Floridians will understand they’re better off with healthcare reform than without it,” he said.
Meek, who called the signature gathering the “victory before the victory,” said he has also been campaigning on job creation and better services for veterans.
To reach out to voters and volunteers, his campaign will be relying on information collected in the petitions, which included a line for e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers for signers who wanted to receive campaign text messages.
“We look forward to capitalizing on that,” Meek said.
He said he was encouraged by talking to voters in Publix and Winn-Dixie parking lots during the petition drive.
“We’re going to peak at the right time,” Meek said. “We’re going to win.”