Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL), whose run for Senate has been cast to the sidelines as the state's top two Republicans duke it out, said that the campaign had already become a "referendum" on the Tea Party movement, owing to the attention it has drawn from ultra-conservative figures.
In a conference call on Thursday, the Florida Democrat singled out House Speaker Marco Rubio in particular, insisting that he had become a conduit for the Tea Party's more incendiary figures.
"When you have the Club for Growth, CPAC, other groups, [Dick] Armey, [Rush] Limbaugh who lives in Florida and a number of other individuals of influence as it relates to the ultra-conservative community, all on one side of the ball saying this is what we want," Meek said, "that means that moderate Republicans, Independents and Democrats are going to have to choose and say this is what we want, and this is how we want it, and we do not want to federalize someone who is going to carry this country into the direction it was in two or three years ago."
Earlier, Meek made it a point to mention that Rubio had the backing of another prominent and divisive conservative figure -- Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) -- who endorsed the state's House Speaker well before other more mainstream Republicans considered it in vogue.
Asked point-blank whether his electoral strategy going forward would be to make the Senate race about these more national figures, Meek insisted that they themselves "already had."
"[I]ndividuals... are looking at this campaign and seeing the potential of federalizing someone like Mr. Rubio or Mr. Crist because both would have to subscribe to a very right agenda," Meek said.
The congressmen pointed to specific issues that seem likely to play a role in the general election for the Senate seat. He chastised both Rubio and Crist for calling Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor unqualified, noting that Sotomayor's mother resides in Florida. And he insisted that the two Republicans were speaking in "code" on immigration -- hinting that they would support constructing a wall to keep immigrants out of the country. Finally, he called Rubio a birther: "[He] still questions that the president was born in the United States of America."
The politics of it all are uncomplicated. For Meek, the surest way to overcome the deficits he's had with media attention and fundraising is to nationalize his race. Tying Rubio and Crist to a group of better-known and more widely reviled Republicans does the trick but only to the extent that the congressman can convince the broader Democratic Party that he can win a general election contest against either candidate.