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Kendrick Meek's petition on track to make 2010 ballot

The leading Democratic candidate for Florida's open U.S. Senate seat, Kendrick Meek, says he is on track to meet his goal of collecting 130,000 signatures by March 29, making him the first statewide candidate to qualify for the Florida ballot by petition.

Yet his campaign has been largely overshadowed by the fierce Republican contest between Gov. Charlie Crist and former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

Meek's campaign manager, Abe Dyk, got reporters' attention today by arranging a conference call to announce that the campaign has 112,000 signatures, though only a portion of those signatures have been turned into state election officials.

Here's the rub: The campaign may still pay the qualifying fee just in case it gets "dragged into" a legal dispute over the validity of the signatures, Dyk acknowledged. The roughly $10,000 fee is due April 30.

"We expect that we are going to make the ballot and make it with enough that we won't be paying that fee,'' Dyk said. He said if the campaign paid the fee it would be "doing it only to make sure."

Meek has been criss-crossing the state to gather signatures and raise his profile, with 10 trips to Jacksonville, 5 to Pensacola and "too many to count" to Tampa Bay and Orland, Dyk said. Polls show him trailing both Crist and Rubio.

"We've worked harder and longer than anyone else in the campaign,'' Dyk said. "We're not paying attention to polls."