Florida Senate candidate denies he was asked to quit

MIAMI Fri Oct 29, 2010 8:15am EDT

Senatorial candidate, U.S. Representative Kendrick Meek (D), answers a question during a news conference after a televised debate at Univision Studios in Miami, Florida September 17, 2010. REUTERS/Hans Deryk

Senatorial candidate, U.S. Representative Kendrick Meek (D), answers a question during a news conference after a televised debate at Univision Studios in Miami, Florida September 17, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Hans Deryk

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MIAMI (Reuters) - A Florida Democrat running a distant third in the state's three-way U.S. Senate race vowed on Thursday to stay in the contest and denied that former U.S. President Bill Clinton asked him to withdraw.

Politico and CNN reported that 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 election is next Tuesday.

According to the Politico report, Meek agreed, and planned to endorse the candidate running as an independent, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, but then failed to go ahead with the withdrawal. Politico cited Clinton spokesman Matt McKenna.

Meek told reporters at a news conference he would remain in the race and denied that Clinton had asked him to pull out.

"The press report from Politico is inaccurate, at best," he said. "I think it's important that everyone understands I am in this race until Tuesday."

Polls show Meek trailing Rubio and Crist in the race in Florida, a key state in the mid-term elections in which public opinion polls show Republicans likely to make significant gains. Rubio is a favorite of the loosely organized conservative Tea Party movement.

Crist's campaign 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."

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.

(Writing by Kevin Gray; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Will Dunham)

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