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Fla. Senate candidate denies Clinton asked him to quit

A Florida Democrat running a distant third in the state's three-way Senate race again denied that former President Bill Clinton asked him to withdraw in order to help Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.
/ Source: NBC, msnbc.com and news services

A Florida Democrat running a distant third in the state's three-way Senate race again denied Friday that former President Bill Clinton asked him to withdraw from the race in order to help Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a former Republican who is running as an independent.

Democrat Kendrick Meek told NBC's TODAY show that he had discussions about the race in Florida with Clinton during the former president's visits to the state to campaign on his behalf. But he denied that Clinton asked him to step down. "I never once told him that I was getting out and he never once asked me to get out."

Clinton said Friday that he didn't ask Meek to drop out of the race, but says the two spoke about the race and its challenges.

Clinton issued a statement in which he called Meek a close friend. He said he and Meek spoke last week after a rally in Orlando. Clinton said he told Meek that how he goes forward in the race was his decision to make.

Clinton said he still believes Meek could be the best senator for Florida.

A number of media on Thursday, including Politico and CNN, reported Clinton had tried to persuade Meek to drop out of the race to prevent a win by the contest's frontrunner, Republican Marco Rubio.

"The argument was: 'You can be a hero here. You can stop him, you can change this race in one swoop,'" a Democrat familiar with the

According to the Politico report, Meek agreed, and planned to endorse Crist, but then failed to go ahead with the withdrawal. Politico cited Clinton spokesman Matt McKenna.

Meek denied there was any plan for him to drop out. He also rejected poll numbers showing him getting only about 15 percent of the vote in next Tuesday's election.

Crist's campaign, for its part, said in a statement: "While this story is accurate, the Governor's focus is on uniting common-sense Democrats, independents, and Republicans behind his campaign because he is the one candidate who can defeat Tea Party extremist Marco Rubio and deliver bipartisan results for Florida in Washington."

The governor also confirmed to MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann that the discussions did occur, saying he had "numerous phone calls" with people close to President Clinton.

A Meek withdrawal would boost the chances of Crist, who was a Republican when he became governor in 2007 but left the party when polls indicated Rubio would trounce him in the August Republican primary election.

In a Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday, Rubio, who is widely seen as a rising Republican star, led with 42 percent compared to 35 percent for Crist. Meek trailed with 15 percent.

National opinion polls show the Republicans on track to win enough seats to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives, which could put the brakes on President Barack Obama's legislative agenda. Surveys show Democrats are also likely to lose Senate seats but they may keep a slim majority.