(CNN) - Former President Bill Clinton last week tried to persuade Florida Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek to drop out of the three-way contest, according to a report by Politico that was confirmed by CNN.
A senior Democratic official told CNN that the White House was aware of Clinton’s negotiations, and that Democrats believed the move would prevent Republican candidate Marco Rubio from winning the Florida Senate seat.
As part of the deal, Republican-turned-independent Gov. Charlie Crist would then caucus with Democrats in the Senate. Meek was considering the option until two days ago, but the deal eventually fell apart, according to the source.
Another Democratic source familiar with the talks said there was concern about push back in the African American community if Meek dropped out.
According to another senior Democratic official, Clinton received a verbal assurance from Meek twice that he would drop out of the race. Clinton informed other top Democrats and the White House of the decision. Clinton then cleared his schedule and chartered a plane to fly him to Florida to campaign with Meek and Crist together.
“Clinton thought he would be campaigning with Kendrick and Crist, and Meek backed out at the last minute,” the Democratic official said.
Meek’s campaign issued a statement denying the report Thursday.
"The article is not true. Kendrick Meek was never dropping out of this race, is never dropping out of this race, and will never drop out of this race. Kendrick Meek will always stand up for the middle class and will not leave Floridians a choice between two lifelong conservative Republicans who only stand with the special interests. Kendrick is the Democratic nominee so if anyone should drop out, it's Charlie Crist," the statement said.
Dave Hoffman, spokesman for Kendrick Meek said Clinton and Meek speak frequently, but “there was never any agreement for Kendrick to drop out.”
“I dispute that Kendrick ever agreed to drop out. I don’t dispute the fact that they had the discussion,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman said Crist spoke directly to Meek about the matter Sunday right after the CNN/St. Petersburg Times/USF Debate moderated by Chief Political Correspondent and "State of the Union" anchor Candy Crowley.
“My recollection is that Charlie Crist pulled him aside… it is quite obvious that Charlie Crist would like Kendrick Meek to get out of the race,” Hoffman said. “Charlie Crist knows he is running against a real Democrat. So he pulls him aside and he begs him to get out of the race.”
Crist appeared on MSNBC Thursday night and said “those discussion did occur.” He also said he does not think Meek will drop out of the race before the election.
Crist’s campaign spokesman Danny Kanner confirmed the conversations in a statement.
"While this story is accurate, the Governor's focus is on uniting common-sense Democrats, independents, and Republicans behind his campaign because he is the one candidate who can defeat Tea Party extremist Marco Rubio and deliver bipartisan results for Florida in Washington."
Rubio spokesman Todd Harris issued a statement.
“Charlie Crist truly will say and do anything to get elected and hold on to power. Secret deals to trade away principles for power is already the problem in Washington, it’s not the solution. This is simply politics as usual which is exactly what voters across the country are emphatically rejecting this election.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele also released a statement.
“President Clinton’s actions to have Kendrick Meek withdraw from the campaign sends a chilling signal to all voters, but specifically African Americans,” Steele said. “One can only imagine the response if Republican leadership tried to force out of the race – in the 11th hour – a qualified black candidate like Kendrick Meek.”
Early voting in Florida is already underway. To date, more than 1.7 million Floridians have voted, which is approximately one third of all likely voters.
According to a recent Quinnipiac Poll 42 percent of likely voters surveyed supported Rubio, 35 percent supported Crist and 15 percent supported Meek. The poll had a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
- CNN's John King, Mark Preston, Ed Henry, Jessica Yellin, Gloria Borger, Dana Bash and Candy Crowley contributed to this report