AFL-CIO considering split endorsement in Florida Senate race

The AFL-CIO may take the unusual move of endorsing two candidates for the state's open Senate seat.

The largest labor coalition in the country is considering whether to endorse both Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek and Independent Gov. Charlie Crist for the Senate, a source told The Hill Saturday. 

Crist, who recently left the Republican Party to launch an Independent bid after it became clear he would lose the GOP nomination to Republican candidate Marco Rubio, is actively seeking the labor coalition's endorsement. 

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"A split endorsement is definitely on the table," the source said.

Crist appeared at the Florida AFL-CIO's conference this weekend and asked members for their endorsement. Most had assumed the group would give its backing to Meek. 

The Florida AFL-CIO is publicly announcing its endorsement on Sunday, a decision that is made on the local level. The group's backing would be a big step for Crist, who forfeited the support of a political party when he decided to run as an Independent. 

The source said that the AFL-CIO is considering backing Crist because of his ties to the state's public school teachers, which make up over half of the Florida group.

The endorsement, however, requires the support of two-thirds of the group's members. Securing the full endorsement of the AFL-CIO is also crucial for the Democratic front-runner Meek, who is facing a primary challenge from billionaire Jeff Greene.

Last month, Crist made a big gesture to teachers by vetoing Senate Bill 6, which would have made it easier to fire teachers and would have tied teachers' pay and evaluations to student performance.

"Crist has done a lot for the teachers so there's a lot of pressure to support him, even if Meek is more in line with the broad issues important to workers," the source said.

This is not the first time Crist has made overtures to Democrats. This week, he hired Eric Johnson, the ex-chief of staff to former Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), to serve as his South Florida political director.

Another factor the AFL-CIO may be considering is Meek's decision late last year to withdraw as a sponsor for trade legislation that would require the review and renegotiation of all U.S. trade agreements. The AFL-CIO backs the bill.

An official with the AFL-CIO at the time said Meek's decision to withdraw his sponsorship would be a subject for discussions. The state AFL-CIO had previously endorsed Meek. 

An aide to Meek said the lawmaker withdrew as a sponsor to the trade bill after realizing the legislation would run "counter" to Meek's record.

This story was posted at 12:44 p.m. and updated at 1:45 p.m.