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Meek and Green Blame Each Other for Negative Campaign

Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Kendrick Meek and Jeff Greene blamed each other for the tone of their sharply negative primary Tuesday during a testy debate in Orlando.

Greene, a multi-millionaire who is largely self-financing his campaign and has pulled nearly even with Meek in most polls, said Meek started the negative campaigning on Greene’s first day in the race, which was also the last day of candidate qualifying.

Greene said he called Meek and asked for a positive campaign, but Meek never returned the call. That makes a campaign in which Greene has repeatedly called Meek a “corrupt” politician Meek’s fault, not his, Greene said.

“Anything in my television commercials is just quoting things out of the newspapers,” he said. “I’m just asking the questions that the press is asking.”

Similarly Meek, who has accused Greene of trying to buy the Senate seat after the wealthy real estate investor spent nearly $6 million out of pocket on the race through July, pointed the finger at Greene. He has just been defending himself, he said.

“I don’t need to explain who went negative and how heavy they’ve gone negative because it’s on television and in mailboxes every day,” Meek said. “I’m not going to allow Mr. Greene to attack, attack, attack and not respond.”

The tenor of the rest of Tuesday’s debate, which was sponsored by Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association, matched the campaign ads the candidates blamed each other for. Greene pressed his accusation that Meek steered federal contracts to a developer who hired his mother as a consultant, and Meek again raised a 2007 yacht trip to Cuba that Greene says was a stop for repairs along the way to a missionary trip to Honduras.

Meek has said the trip was a lavish party.

“You have more versions of why you went to Cuba than Baskin Robins has flavors of ice cream,” Meek said to Greene. “You’re pointing 1 finger, but three fingers are pointing back at you. Mr. Greene, I have more integrity in my pinky than you have in your whole body.”

Greene defended the associations that critics have pointed to in questioning his qualifications to hold elected office, such as Mike Tyson, who was the best man at his wedding. He did not pick his friends with the idea that he would be a candidate for office, he said.

“I don’t have perfect friends,” Greene said. “Everyone has friends with colorful backgrounds.”

Elsewhere, Greene tiptoed around mentioning Meek’s mother, former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, when he talked about the development deal he has hammered the entire campaign, referring to her as a member of Meek’s family. But he did not hesitate to bring up the allegations that Meek’s mother got a $90,000 job with developer Dennis Stackhouse and an Escalade.

“I know you don’t want to hear about the Stackhouse matter, but the people all over of Florida are asking about it,” Greene said.

As he did in commercials aired in Washington, D.C., Greene pressed Meek to submit to a congressional ethics investigation. Meek defended the Liberty City development deal, which never came to fruition, saying he was looking out for his congressional district.

“Poinciana Park is one of the most blighted areas in the state of the Florida, since 1980,” Meek said. “I watched it burn down. I don’t need to be incentivized to make improvements to that area.”

He added that the ethics committee would have launched an investigation on its own if it thought one was warranted.

There was very little discussion of policy during Tuesday’s debate, and even fewer disagreements between the candidates. Meek and Greene both said that more domestic spending was needed to stimulate the sagging U.S. economy and both said they would push for more transportation infrastructure.

The pair split hairs over tax cuts passed by former President George W. Bush, and whether they should be allowed to expire this year. Greene said he would preserve tax cuts for the middle class, which he did not define, and said Meek would roll them back for everyone. Meek said he would “redirect” the tax cuts to help middle class families, which he similarly did not define.

Other topics discussed included health care and social security, though neither subject produced serious disagreement.

The debate was the only encounter between Meek and Greene that will be aired statewide. The sponsors had planned another debate for the Republican gubernatorial candidates Wednesday, but Naples businessman Rick Scott has said he will not attend. Organizers have said they will press ahead with a forum with Attorney General Bill McCollum, with the moderator and panelists presenting Scott’s stance on issues.

The debate, which was recorded live-to-tape, will air on TV stations and be Webcast Tuesday evening.

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