Florida has never had an erotic art-collecting billionaire who pals around with Mike Tyson run for statewide office, so it's hard to tell whether Jeff Greene has a real shot.
But the flamboyant Democratic U.S. Senate candidate proved Monday that he can't be written off, launching a statewide TV ad campaign estimated at roughly $1.3 million a week.
"The career politicians have had their chance — I have a real plan to bring back and create jobs in Florida, jump-start the housing market and revitalize our economy," Greene says in one of two TV ads that aired around the state Monday. "I have always gotten results, and I'll shake up Washington to get results for Florida."
Greene has been talking to Democratic political consultants across Florida and across the country, assembling a campaign team to knock out front-runner Kendrick Meek, who has the support of state and national Democratic leaders. Former Howard Dean adviser Joe Trippi and Bill Clinton strategist Doug Schoen are helping Greene, but the Florida team is still being assembled.
Just as polls show Republican gubernatorial front-runner Bill McCollum has lost more than 20 points amid an avalanche of TV ads by little-known businessman Rick Scott of Naples, Meek faces a serious threat from Greene. McCollum and Meek each have less than $4 million available to spend against rivals who are apparently ready to spend tens of millions of dollars.
"When you look at the kind of bounce that Rick Scott has seen against Bill McCollum … Jeff Greene is going to move up very quickly in the polls because neither one of these two men start from the point of being well known," said Democratic pollster Tom Eldon. "But that's not to say he's going to sustain that lead once people look into his background."
The Wall Street Journal dubbed Greene a "meltdown mogul" because he became a billionaire betting on the implosion of subprime mortgages, which helped crater the U.S. economy. A Florida resident for two years, Greene was among the first individuals to invest in complex financial instruments known as credit default swaps, complex financial instruments that were basically insurance against bundles of mortgages defaulting.
"Jeff Greene is spending his ill-gotten gains in an attempt to buy a U.S. Senate seat, but Floridians aren't selling. Pioneering what Warren Buffett called financial weapons of mass destruction and helping fuel the economic meltdown disqualifies Greene from representing Florida families," said Kendrick Meek's spokesman Adam Sharon.
With limited money, though, Meek is responding to Greene's candidacy by launching negative ads only seen on the Internet and a website, TruthAboutJeffGreene.com, attacking Greene's business background and partying playboy lifestyle before his 2007 marriage.
But Meek has his own ethical issues, with the Miami Herald this weekend outlining Meek's tied to a developer accused of stealing nearly $1 million from a failed project in Miami for which Meek sought federal funding. The developer paid $90,000 in consulting fees to Meek's mother and paid $13,000 to help a Meek aide get a mortgage.
"We can no longer let the corrupt actions of these failed career politicians stand," Greene said in a prepared statement.
The Democratic establishment in Tallahassee and Washington is backing Meek.
"We, along with Democrats across Florida and President Obama, continue enthusiastically supporting Kendrick Meek because he is the hands-on leader who has been fighting to bring good jobs to our state and works every day to get things done for the people of Florida," said state party spokesman Eric Jotkoff.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.