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Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene joins Democratic race for governor

Greene ran for U.S. Senate in 2010, getting 31 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.

Jeff Greene is not your average politician.

The billionaire developer bankrolled his unsuccessful 2010 bid for U.S. Senate with his own money. He made mercurial boxer Mike Tyson the best man at his California wedding. And Greene, a Democrat, kept his membership at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago after the 2016 election.

And while a primary race raged over the past year for the Democratic nomination to become Florida's next governor, Greene waited, polled and then pounced. On Friday, according to the Florida Division of Elections, he filed papers declaring his candidacy for governor — potentially throwing an already crowded race into disarray.

"It reminds me a little bit of the '94 race when you had a whole lot of Republicans running for governor," said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist. "They ended up with a battle royale. … I think that's not an unlikely outcome in this scenario."

Greene, 63, could not be reached for comment. He said nothing to the press when he opened his campaign account, and appeared to give no interviews Monday.

But his interest in a political comeback has been well known. Politico reported last month that Greene was polling voters, and included questions about his history as a former Republican candidate for Congress and his past support of Trump.

Greene enters the race at the 11th hour, though he does so with resources unavailable to the typical candidate. Forbes lists Greene's net worth as $3.8 billion, and he's already indicated that he's willing to pump millions into his bid to claim the Democratic nomination. In 2010, he invested nearly $24 million of his own money into his losing primary campaign against Kendrick Meek, in which he earned 31 percent of the vote.

Greene made his fortune in real estate and development, and made so much money betting against the real estate market ahead of the crash in the late 2000s that the Wall Street Journal dubbed him a "Meltdown Mogul."

"If I did get involved," Greene told the Palm Beach Post in April, "I'd be able to get my message out and spend whatever it would take to get me over the top."

About three months are left until primary election day in a crowded Democratic field that already features Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Chris King and Philip Levine. Patrick Murphy, a former congressman from Jupiter, is also mulling a run and has been raising money. He is expected to make a decision sometime this week on what would be a bipartisan ticket with former Republican congressman David Jolly, with whom he's been making media rounds.

Greene's money should help him compete in a race that is still seen as relatively wide open despite the fact that absentee ballots go out in about seven weeks. Levine, who's led in recent polls, has been able to promote himself for months on television thanks to nearly $8 million of his own money — an investment Greene tripled when he ran for Senate.

Still, Greene will be competing for air time with dozens of other candidates. And along with a colorful past, he's got some partisan baggage that could prove problematic in a year in which the Democratic Party is swinging farther to the left.

Greene, who ran for Congress in California as a Republican in 1982, has criticized Trump's rhetoric, but kept his membership at Mar-a-Lago — which is located down the street from his home — after the president controversially defended white nationalists following deadly protests in Charlottesville. Greene also gave fairly warm remarks about Trump to Forbes after the 2016 election.

"Having won the presidency and kept control of the Senate and the House, Republicans have a chance to do something great for this country," Greene said.

Wilson, the Republican strategist, was skeptical that Greene will pull many votes. Regardless, his candidacy should shake up the Democratic primary by throwing millions more into messaging — and perhaps attacks — and by adding yet a fifth personality into a race with significant egos. But if any of his opponents are sweating, they aren't saying.

"I welcome Jeff Greene to this race to become Florida's next Governor," Gillum said Monday morning in a statement released by his campaign. "As the son of a construction worker and bus driver, and still the only non-millionaire Democrat in our primary, I believe Florida Democrats need a true champion for working people as their nominee."