Tycoon to give Meek run for his money for Florida Senate nod

Real estate tycoon Jeff Greene plans to use his personal fortune to help fund his bid for Florida’s Senate seat, which could drain resources from the eventual Democratic nominee.

“I have no budget whatsoever,” Greene told The Hill. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to get my message out to the people of Florida.”

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Greene, who announced his candidacy April 30, is running for the Democratic nomination against Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.).

The four-term congressman was expected to coast through the primary and into what’s now a three-way race against Republican Marco Rubio and Gov. Charlie Crist, who’s running as an Independent. Instead, he is facing off against Greene in what may prove to be a tough campaign for the Democratic nod.

In terms of fundraising, Greene said he won’t take “one penny of special interest money, lobbyist money, PAC money” for his campaign. “Not in the primary, not in the general election and not after I go to Washington,” he said. He said he would accept $100 contributions. “That’s going to be the limit.”

Greene is one of the 400 richest people in the country with an estimated net worth close to $1.4 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

But money only goes so far in politics. While Greene has retained the services of some famous consultants, including Joe Trippi, he has been unable to secure senior campaign staff, despite offering $50,000 a month to prospective candidates, according to the New York Times.

The Greene camp disputes the paper's report.

"It's simply not true," said Paul Blank, a spokesman for Greene. "Someone requested that amount but it was rejected."

Still, Greene plans to open a headquarters in Palm Beach and said he will have a robust campaign apparatus.

He is positioning himself as the pragmatic outsider running against three “career politicians.”

“I think [Rubio, Crist and Meek] have a lot in common, these three guys, in that they’re all career politicians who are responsible for the failures we’ve had in Washington and Tallahassee,” he said.

Greene said he’s prepared for a rough campaign.

“I’ve had hundreds of attacks and it’s only a week today that I’ve been in this race,” he said recently.

The Meek campaign said last week that Greene is “a pioneer of Wall Street greed” because he bet “against the American economy, and enriching himself on the backs of middle-class Floridians.”

The Meek camp also pointed out that Greene owns 10 homes, including several in California. The subject line of the press release was “Jeff Greene: Billionaire ‘Meltdown Mogul’ and owner of many homes.”

Greene made hundreds of millions of dollars investing in credit default swaps that increased in value as the housing market crashed.

In an interview, Greene argued that his business acumen will be an asset in the Senate race. “I’m the only guy in this race who’s signed the front of a paycheck and not just the back of a paycheck,” he said.

But there’s also the issue of Greene’s famous -- or in some cases infamous -- friends, which include Mike Tyson and Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss. “Mike Tyson I’ve known for many years, but this race isn’t about who my friends were; this race is about the future of Florida, that’s why I’m running,” he said.

Greene may also get attacked for being a carpetbagger of sorts. He spent part of his youth in the Sunshine State, but he still has a Massachusetts accent and a 2008 profile in Forbes referred to him as a “Los Angeles real estate mogul.” It won’t help that he made a short-lived bid for a California House seat as a Republican.

Greene now calls himself an “independent Democrat,” and disavows the “one year” he spent in the GOP.

“For one year of my long, 55-year-old life I did become a Republican, right after I got out of Harvard Business School,” he said. “I’ve been a Democrat my whole life. I’m a Democrat through and through.”

Observers are waiting to see how this primary plays out.

“Meek is well liked and is a known commodity in the Democratic base, though when you have a guy with an unlimited checkbook, you can't take anything for granted,” said Steven Schale, a Florida-based Democratic consultant.