MIAMI — Candidates typically make their television debut with feel-good footage of them bonding with their family, listening to elderly voters and reading to schoolchildren.
U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami — about $7 million in advertising behind his chief Democratic opponent for the U.S. Senate — decided to cut to the chase.
''Became a billionaire on Wall Street betting middle class families would lose their homes. Helped fuel the economic meltdown,'' Meek's new ad says of real estate investor Jeff Greene, complete with unflattering photos. ''Betting on suffering does matter.''
Meek launched his modest counteroffensive Monday as polls show Greene gaining on him, with four weeks to go before the Aug. 24 primary. Meek is spending roughly $400,000 on the commercial, about three times less than it costs to saturate the airwaves statewide.
In contrast, Greene will have spent nearly $8 million on television by the end of this week. His latest spot dismisses Meek as a career politician beholden to special interests. A mailing that reached absentee voters on Monday accuses Meek of helping subprime lenders ''abuse'' Florida homeowners.
''Our campaign has no choice but to fight back to make sure Floridians know how Greene made the money he is using to launch false and misleading television attacks,'' says a memo from Meek's campaign manager Abe Dyk.
Meek's campaign is also fending off speculation that President Barack Obama will offer only lackluster support in a contest heavily dominated by Republican Marco Rubio, the former Florida House speaker, and independent Gov. Charlie Crist, who is attracting considerable Democratic support.
In a tangible sign that Obama is behind Meek, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is slated to headline a fundraiser for him on Aug. 2 in Washington.
U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar said Obama needs to step up his efforts to help Meek, particularly by activating his grassroots network in the nation's largest swing state.
''I personally feel Democrats need to stop playing footsie with Charlie Crist,'' Hastings said. ''We have an opportunity for a young man with excellent credentials to be the nominee, and here they go finding excuses.''
The accusations in Meek's new ad are familiar: Greene is a carpetbagging former Republican who only moved to Florida two years ago. That's true. But the ad's claim that Greene contributed to the real estate market's collapse ignores major causes, like the subprime mortgage crisis and lax federal regulation.
Greene made hundreds of millions of dollars from so-called credit default swaps in which he predicted widespread mortgage foreclosures.
''The only person who wrecked the economy was Kendrick Meek and his friends in Congress,'' Greene said Monday, trying to turn the tables on his opponent. ''I've created jobs and gotten results.''
Meek and Greene are scheduled to face off in three debates before the primary: Aug. 1 at Bay News 9 in St. Petersburg, Aug. 10 at WKMG in Orlando, and Aug. 15 at WPLG in Miami.