VIDEO/PHOTOS: Kendrick Meek touts Democratic credentials in Naples visit

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Miami), left, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, speaks with supporters  at First Watch restaurant in Naples on Thursday, August 12, 2010. Meek met with a small and enthusiastic crowd of campaign volunteers and supporters at the breakfast cafe.

Photo by Tristan Spinski

Photo by TRISTAN SPINSKI // Buy this photo

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Miami), left, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, speaks with supporters at First Watch restaurant in Naples on Thursday, August 12, 2010. Meek met with a small and enthusiastic crowd of campaign volunteers and supporters at the breakfast cafe. Photo by Tristan Spinski

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Kendrick Meek is fighting an uphill battle in a flat state.

Riding around Florida in an RV brandished with a giant image of his face, the U.S. Congressman from Miami is trying to keep voters focused on what he calls community issues: the economy, healthcare, the environment and the war.

And he’s squaring off with a billionaire for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.

After hopping down from the camper and into the hot morning sun with his wife, Leslie, and two young children, Lauren and Kendrick, Jr., Meek spoke briefly to reporters and then headed into First Watch in the Marquesa Plaza in Naples for a much-needed cup of coffee — black, no sugar.

“I am running against a billionaire with a capital ‘B’ who was a Republican two years ago,” Meek said about his primary rival, Jeff Greene — a real estate tycoon who first made the Forbes 400 list in 2008 and named former boxing heavyweight champ Mike Tyson the “best man” at his wedding.

Meek says there’s little difference between Greene, the assumed Republican nominee Marco Rubio and Independent candidate Charlie Crist.

“That’s why we call it the ‘Real Dem Express’ — so that people don’t get confused as to who is the real Democrat in this race,” Meek said in regards to his bus tour throughout Florida. “

Meek said he wants to stay focused on tackling Florida’s double-digit unemployment rate, the Gulf oil spill, the war in Afghanistan and improving health care for seniors. A dozen volunteers and supporters in the restaurant sipped coffee and ate pastries as the former Florida Highway Patrolman laid out his argument for sending him to the ballot on the November midterm election.

Meek wants to ban oil drilling off of Florida’s coast, saying it threatens the foundation of Florida’s tourism economy.

“I think the ‘drill, baby, drill’ crowd knows that we will loose if we don’t stand up,” Meek said.

Other issues that form Meek’s platform include raising minimum wage, bringing the troops home from Afghanistan and attracting environmentally sound energy companies to Florida. He is pro-choice, says he wants to increase funding for veterans’ services and says he will support rolling back the Bush tax cuts.

Many see the Democratic primary as simply a variable in the Marco Rubio vs. Charlie Crist battle for the Senate seat. Polls indicate that a Meek win would pull Democrats away from Crist and ultimately propel Rubio to Washington. While a Greene win in the primary would demand a photo-finish for Rubio and Crist.

But Barbara Metcalfe, of Naples and a former teacher, says she came to hear Meek speak at First Watch on Wednesday morning because the polls are too volatile to make predictions.

“It this culture, huge changes can happen in a very short time,” Metcalfe said. “It’s too soon to give up on a candidate because of poll numbers.”

Meek’s bus tour ends this weekend with a campaign event in Miami where former President Bill Clinton is expected to make an appearance and show his support.

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