ST. PETERSBURG — Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek brought former President Bill Clinton to town Tuesday to try to whip up some homestretch enthusiasm for his struggling U.S. Senate campaign.
The former president, still hugely popular among party members, told a crowd of more than 1,000 on the campus of the University of South Florida on St. Petersburg that Meek and other Democrats in Congress should be given more of a chance to clean up the mess made by the last Republican administration.
Republican leadership left the country’s economy in a hole, Clinton said, and they are now quick to criticize President Barack Obama and Democrats for not being able to climb out of it yet.
“You’re right, we didn’t get out of this hole,” Clinton said. “It was a very deep hole. But at least we stopped digging.”
He urged the college students in the crowd at the campus activities center to get out the vote for Meek. He warned that if Republicans regain control of Congress, they will take steps to make it more difficult to get and repay student loans.
“Don’t you listen to this tea party talk about how (Republicans) are on your side,” said Clinton, who campaigned last week at another Southern college, the University of Mississippi.
Clinton said he felt so strongly about helping Meek prevail that he flew across the country after Monday campaign stops out West, arriving in Florida at 4 a.m.
Meek is in need of the help. Two weeks before the election, polls show the four-term South Florida congressman well behind Republican Marco Rubio and Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent.
Some Democrats have suggested Meek drop out of the race to give Crist a chance to beat the more conservative Rubio, but Meek has refused. He noted that he withstood a barrage of attack ads and rallied to beat self-financed billionaire Jeff Greene in the Democratic primary.
“I will continue to work, I’ll continue to fight for you, and I’ll continue to give you a voice in the process,” Meek told the crowd hours before he was scheduled to participate in another debate with Rubio and Crist on statewide TV Tuesday night.
Clinton said Meek should be elected to help keep Obama’s health care reform law intact and keep Congress from privatizing Medicare. And Meek, he said, is the only one of the three candidates who has already worked in Congress to keep the country secure.
Clinton said his administration proved that Democratic principles are more effective.
“We’ve tested these ideas, theirs and ours, and ours worked better,” he said.
Before Clinton spoke, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson told the crowd he needed Meek in Washington to help him keep gas and oil drilling rigs far away from Florida beaches.
Clinton is scheduled to appear with Meek at a rally Wednesday at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.