MIAMI — U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek on Monday gave elections officials the last of the petitions signed by voters to get him on the ballot, capping an almost yearlong effort to build momentum for his U.S. Senate race.
His campaign says it has collected 145,000 names. The petitions give Meek a trove of information on sympathetic voters the Miami Democrat will need to take on his GOP rival in the general election.
Gov. Charlie Crist and former House Speaker Marco Rubio are vying for the Republican nomination in the primary.
Flanked by their two children, Meek and his wife, Leslie, signed their own petitions at a Miami-Dade elections office and put the forms in the final box.
"Well, this is it," Meek said before turning the box over to a clerk. "It's a message to the state of Florida that we wanted to listen to their needs."
If elections departments across the state verify 112,476 of the signatures, Meek's campaign says, he will be the first candidate to qualify for statewide office by petition instead of paying a roughly $10,000 qualifying fee.
"It costs a lot more to do it the way we've done it, not only financially but in human work-hours," Meek said, adding that volunteers had been double-checking petitions until the wee hours. "This effort made me a better candidate, and I'm sure will make me a better senator."
Abe Dyk, Meek's campaign manager, said signatures were collected all over the state, including counties like Pinellas and Hillsborough. And Meek said he made a point to focus on North Florida, where Democrats need to blunt GOP support to succeed.
Party affiliation doesn't matter in canvassing for signatures, and Dyk said the campaign gathered names from more than 10,000 registered Republicans. Supervisors of elections have until April 19 to certify the signatures.
Meek and a handful of supporters turned in the petitions the day after Crist and Rubio, faced off on a nationally televised debate on Fox News Sunday.
"It was more about the two of them, personal attacks on one another … than on the issues," Meek said.
Earlier, on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Meek said he is ready for either of the dueling Republicans but dodged the question of which one he'd rather face. Polls have suggested that both Crist and Rubio hold comfortable leads over Meek.
Former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre is also a candidate for the Democratic Senate nomination.