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Clinton-Meek political friendship spans nearly 2 decades

By Ed Hornick, CNN
U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek has received strong support in his bid for a U.S. Senate seat from Florida from former President Clinton.
U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek has received strong support in his bid for a U.S. Senate seat from Florida from former President Clinton.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek is running to become Florida's next U.S. senator
  • Former President Clinton has made nine appearances for Meek on the campaign trial
  • Ties goes back to '92 race when Meek, then a state trooper, provided security for Clinton
  • Meek also backed Hillary Clinton's 2008 bid for president

(CNN) -- It's been a long time since U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek and former President Clinton met at the Suwanee Swifty store in Tallahassee, Florida.

Clinton, during his 1992 presidential bid, needed to make a stop for deodorant after landing at the airport. Meek, then a state trooper, was assigned to Clinton's detail and accompanied the Arkansas governor.

It's a visit both would remember for a long time -- and something that would solidify a friendship lasting nearly two decades.

"We stopped at the Suwanee Swifty on Lake Bradford Road, where then-Gov. Clinton picked up some underarm deodorant roll-on. And he commenced putting it on in front of the Suwanee Swifty. As the protector of the governor, I didn't want him to go down putting on roll-on, but we bonded through the process,'' Meek recently told reporters.

A year later, Clinton, now president, was in Miami for an event at a hotel, and Meek, still a state trooper, was again part of Clinton's security detail. As the two were walking, the president turned around to Meek and made a comment along the lines of "We're a long ways away from Suwanee Swifty," said Adam Sharon, Meek's campaign communications director.

"I think that really just stood out for him as being a remarkable memory -- that President Clinton in all that he had gone through that year to become president -- remembers a moment in time from a year prior with Kendrick, who was a state trooper at the time," Sharon said.

Meek, 44, now faces a tough battle to become Florida's next senator. The Democrat, first elected to Congress in 2002, faces off against Gov. Charlie Crist, an independent, and Republican Marco Rubio.

When I first met Kendrick Meek, I knew he had the potential to become a strong leader and a fine public servant.
--Former President Clinton
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The congressman has received overwhelming support from Clinton on the campaign trail and at fundraisers before the August 24 Democratic primary. Meek squared off against billionaire Jeff Greene and won the race by double digits.

Clinton has made nine appearances for Meek. On Tuesday, the ex-president headlined a fundraiser that raked in $175,000, according to the campaign.

Clinton repeatedly has heaped praised on Meek, who represents the 17th Congressional District in South Florida.

"Almost 20 years ago, when I first met Kendrick Meek, I knew he had the potential to become a strong leader and a fine public servant," Clinton said in a statement on Meek's election website. "Kendrick has spent the last two decades faithfully serving the people of Florida, staying true to his core beliefs and giving everything he has to improving the lives of others."

At a campaign event in Delray Beach in mid-August, Clinton said flat-out, "I love Kendrick Meek," adding that "I also believe in my heart that he should be the next United States senator from Florida."

And part of that love seems to stem from their commitment to Haiti.

Meek has been a vocal advocate on issues affecting the struggling nation. The former president's affection for the nation and its people goes back to his honeymoon spent in the country and to his recent work there helping earthquake victims.

"There are many ways that they have come together. Obviously Florida is a critical state for any election and politics in general -- but Haiti as well," said Sharon, the campaign communications director. "Kendrick has always stood out as a leader on issues affecting the Haitian-American community and the nation of Haiti. Obviously, President Clinton has had a very long and deep tie to that nation and now in many ways more than ever."

And then there is the relationship that further developed during the 2008 presidential election.

Kendrick spent months with the ex-president on the campaign trail in support of Hillary Clinton's presidential bid.

The congressman said at the time that she was the Democratic candidate with the "perfect blend of leadership, talent and intellect to lead our nation in a new direction," according to a Clinton campaign press release. He added that it was his "honor" to endorse her to become the next president.

Meek also was a senior adviser to the campaign.

His ringing endorsement and campaign help was certainly not lost on Clinton's husband, a man known for cherishing loyalty among his ranks.

"Often on campaigns, that's where relationships are only further cemented, and the ties become that much stronger," Sharon said. "In all sorts of ways he has shown his support of Kendrick, and in large part it's due to a friendship that is long-lasting, stretching back now almost two decades when both men were at different stages in their lives."

 
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