A Charlie Crist victory in the Florida Senate contest would mean an additional vote with Democrats, a senior aide to former President Bill Clinton said Friday, noting that Clinton got an assurance from the Republican-turned-independent that he would caucus with Democrats if he won.
The, aide, speaking after Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek insisted Friday that Clinton never asked him to drop out of the three-way race, said that Crist called Clinton aide Doug Band and Band intervened between Crist and Meek about Meek's possible departure from the three-way contest.
Crist has denied that he has agreed to caucus with Democrats, saying at a debate earlier this week that he would speak to both parties before deciding with whom to vote. The aide said he understands why Crist would make that denial.
The aide said Crist and Meek were not speaking with each other about this issue, and Clinton didn't enter the discussion until late in the conversation, when it appeared an agreement has been reached.
But Meek said Clinton never asked him to drop out of the race so Crist could win, noting that the two men did discuss the scenario, but a request was never made.
Clinton backed up Meek's version of the story in a statement issued Friday.
"I didn't ask Kendrick to leave the race, nor did Kendrick say that he would," Clinton said. "I told him that how he proceeds was his decision to make and that I would support him regardless."
Meek, who's in a virtual tie for second place with Crist behind Republican nominee Marco Rubio, told Fox News on Friday that Crist is driving the story that first appeared in Politico because Meek's departure is the only way he would have a chance.
"I don't operate like this, and the bottom line is is that Charlie Crist does," Meek said. "It's mind boggling."
Meek said that Clinton was appearing at a rally for Meek when he said he heard reports that Meek was dropping out. Meek said Clinton asked if the reports were true, and he replied not at all.
The conversation ended there, according to Meek.
But Politico reported that during Clinton's trip to Florida, Meek agreed twice to drop out of the race, but then changed his mind.
The aide to Clinton told Fox News that Clinton ultimately agreed it is Meek's decision and did not say that Meek needs to get out of the race.
Crist said Thursday night in an interview with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren that he had discussed the matter with Meek.
"I can attest to you that those conversations did take place," Crist said, asserting that Meek initially had agreed to quit, to "do what was right ... for the people of Florida and people of America and stop a right-wing radical, if you will, from getting elected to the U.S. Senate."
Politico reported that Meek changed his mind when he determined he could still win the race and did not want to be seen as a quitter.
Meek said Friday that he and Band and Clinton are all friends and it was just talk. He added that the controversy has blown up support for him, and his website has processed thousands of dollars in donations since Thursday night.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday shows Rubio's lead is shrinking in the final days of the race. Rubio has 42 percent of the vote to Crist's 35 percent and Meek's 15 percent in their three-way contest. Rubio led Crist by a margin of 44 percent to 30 percent two weeks ago.
As for Rubio, his campaign described it as "politics as usual."
"Charlie Crist truly will say and do anything to get elected and hold on to power," Rubio senior strategist Todd Harris said in a written statement. "Secret deals to trade away principles for power is already the problem in Washington, it's not the solution."
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele weighed in on the report Thursday evening, blasting the former president's involvement in the race.
"President Clinton's actions to have Kendrick Meek withdraw from the campaign sends a chilling signal to all voters, but especially African Americans," Steele said. "One can only imagine the response if Republican leadership tried to force out of the race -- in the 11th hour -- a qualified black candidate like Kendrick Meek."
The senior Clinton aide said the former president was not contacted by the White House, but does say it is the worst-kept secret out there that the White House wanted Meek out of the race.