Rep. Kendrick Meek will be the Democratic candidate for U.S. senator from Florida. The black congressman defeated billionaire Jeff Greene in the Tuesday primary, setting up a tough November battle with Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent, and Republican Mario Rubio.
With 74 percent of the ballots counted, Meek took a 55.4-to-32.5 percent lead. The Associated Press called the race for Meek 20 minutes after the polls closed at 8 p.m. Greene spent more than $20 million to raise his profile against Meek, whose mother earlier represented the 17th District in Congress.
Crist is likely to be favored, drawing support from both Republicans and Democrats, while Rubio will be the candidate of the right and the Tea Party.
Meek will be a clear underdog against the other two candidates in the November election. If he finds a way to win, he would be the first African-American member of the U.S. Senate from the South in 129 years. He is the first black Senate candidate from Florida, and the only black candidate from a major party for a U.S. Senate seat. The last black senator from the South was Blanche Bruce, a former slave and a Republican who represented Mississippi; his term ended in 1881. In his victory speech, Meek pointed out that he is "running against two conservative candidates."
Florida could once again be an important state in a close presidential race in 2012.
Meanwhile, in Meek's old district in the Miami area, State Sen. Frederica Wilson topped eight other opponents to win the Democratic primary. The 68-year-old is likely to breeze to victory and to Congress in November.