Running for Senate as a billionaire has its pluses and minuses. Jeff Greene is about to experience both.
Greene is the newest entrant into Florida's ever-evolving Senate race, having announced his bid hours before the Friday filing deadline--and hours after Gov. Charlie Crist left the Republican Party and re-entered the race as an independent. Greene will now challenge Rep. Kendrick Meek for the Democratic nomination, while Republican Marco Rubio looms as a tentative favorite.
The new candidate is a billionaire, having made his money in real estate. Greene owns a yacht. He owns more than one plane. He got married recently in his $35 million Florida mansion, with Mike Tyson as his best man. Heidi Fleiss reportedly stayed at his house.
And fellow Democrats are getting ready to say plenty of bad things about him.
Namely: that Greene shorted the subprime real estate market to make his money; that he stole his shorting method from John Paulson, a central player in the Goldman Sachs/SEC case; that he tried to run for Congress as a Republican; and that he's only voted in Florida once.
The Service Employees International Union passed much of this along today in a pre-compiled memo. It cites, among other things, CNBC dubbing Greene as "The Man Who Shorted Subprime," as he's credited as being the first real estate investor to short the subprime market. The Wall Street Journal chronicles how Paulson gave Greene a glimpse of his shorting scheme, and how Greene proceeded to use the maneuver to make millions in the real estate market. It cites how Greene unsuccessfully tried to get nominated for Congress as a Republican in 1982 and voting records showing that he's only voted in Florida once--in the 2008 general election, by provisional ballot.
So that's what Greene will be facing. During a recession, in a state among the hardest hit by foreclosures, Greene's opponents hope his subprime history will turn Democratic voters off.
Greene, for his part, is posing his wealth as proof of credibility. In his campaign announcement, Greene criticizes the "career politicians" he's running against and says that "for too long, Washington has been dominated by special interests." Point being: as a billionaire, Greene isn't accountable to anyone. He's not going to take money from political interest groups, because he doesn't have to.
"I am an outsider, the only candidate who isn't a career politician," Greene says.
Greene has hired a star-studded political team to work for him. He's being advised by Joe Trippi, the former Howard Dean campaign manager credited with bringing political campaigns into the digital age (interestingly enough, Dean backs Meek), before working as a senior adviser to John Edwards during the 2008 presidential campaign; Doug Schoen, a partner of top Hillary Clinton adviser Mark Penn in the firm Penn, Schoen & Berland; and Paul Blank, the former political director for Howard Dean.
What does the Greene team make of these attacks?
"I think the people who are raising [those attacks] are smearing him. The fact is that he had worked very hard for a number of years, created a strong business in real estate and lost almost everything in the recession in the early 1990s," Trippi said.
Greene saw the bubble in the market, and he worried about losing everything again, Trippi says. So he made the wise move--against the greedy impulses of the day--and saw through the subprime market for what it was.
"He was insuring and protecting his assets and the jobs he'd created," Trippi said--the alternative being that his business would have collapsed.
Trippi said he suspects the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (the Democratic Party's political arm for Senate campaigns, run by New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez) of compiling the "book" of research to damage Greene, and passing it on to SEIU.
"It was the DSCC," Trippi told me. "All of a sudden their book disappears and then it reappears from other places."
Trippi volunteered that he couldn't prove this, and that it's just his suspicion. As he told Politico's Ben Smith earlier this week, Trippi also said that DSCC Chairman Menendez had asked to use Greene's private plane just days ago, to fly to a fundraiser in Houston
Asked whether it had compiled research on Greene, the DSCC would not comment. The committee is, however, backing Meek in the race.
No word yet on what the Greene campaign has in store. The straight-to-camera YouTube video announcing Greene's candidacy is the only tangible piece of campaign media it's produced so far. With near-limitless funds, it's unclear when Greene will start airing TV or radio ads for the August 24 primary.