Video: Billionaire heats up Florida Senate race

  1. Closed captioning of: Billionaire heats up Florida Senate race

    >> it's getting absurd. moving on.

    >>> with super senate tuesday behind us, now time to look ahead to what will be a summer of marquee primary matchups that we'll be watching. the next big day on our 2010 calendar, in the spring, june 8th with primaries in ten states and that runoff between bill halter and blanche lincoln in arkansas. we'll watch the combative primaries in california, south carolina and in nevada where many the last week there's been a major shake-up in that republican race to take on the vulnerable harry reid . a month after the tea party endorsed sharon engle and launched a tv ad on their behalf and days after a public poll showed her kanld da si surging up 20 points in a month, the club for growth finally decided to weigh in on the race yesterday and endorsed engel. they called her harry reid 's worst nightmare and nevada 's best hope. engel has been to the right of her party since she's been in public life and in her four sessions in the state legislature she cast so many solitaire no society votes that it was common to say bills had passed 62 to angle. she sponsored 70 bills, seven passed. she wants to phase out medicare and social security . but she's almost even with sue loud loudon, originally favored by national republicans . the chicken for one. in a debate airing on john ralston 's "face to face" the last two nights, she still can't drop it. take a listen.

    >> the question is about the chicken? is that the question? i know that you saw them a little bit where i said our grandparents, and they did, john.

    >> speaking of the rv and the latest in lowden distractions, the campaign is being hit with a complaint filed by state democrats over borrowed rv. the lowden campaign is hitting angle hard for voting to raise her legislative salary in 2001 and in 2005 . clearly they think they have a race on their hands. oh, by the way, there is that third candidate and a fourth kand who's spending a ton of his own money but he doesn't really live in nevada . he was a new york wall street investor. speaking of campaigns building their research files, kendra meeks' campaign is sifting through material on palm beach billionaire jeff greene now challenging meek in the primary. greene has already plunked down $1.3 million on an ad campaign launched this week and said he'll spend $40 million before the primary. the primary is in august. he signaled he'll be running as an outsider and yesterday in his first campaign appearance went after senator bill nelson , a democrat, for traveling down to cape canaveral with the president to, quote, terminate jobs in the space program . of course, whether florida voters will accept a billionaire who made millions investing in those credit default swaps is a pretty big if. cnbc cameras took a tour inside his opulent mansion here in 2008 . mike tyson was best man at his wedding and former madam heidi fleiss lived with him for more than a year after getting out of jail. this week his campaign had to deny allegations he brought ukrainian strippers above his 145-foot yacht " summer wind " on a 2005 cruise of the black sea . they say he was traveling with his rabbi and younger brother, not those ukrainian strippers. the meek campaign made odd use of this ammunition this week plotting the most sinister possible line of attack. the campaign compared greene to a character from " leave it to beaver ."

    >> jeff greene , the eddie haskell of senate candidates. jeff greene is the man who shorted subprime mortgages, helping cause the wall street financial collapse. now jeff greene says he did it to protect himself and he was standing up to wall street ? june cleaver wouldn't be fooled by this eddie haskell .

    >> eddie haskell . he seems like a nice kid.

    >> i don't know. i just don't trust a 13-year-old boy that's that polite.

    >> biggest mistake i made was not doing twice as much.

    >> ha.

    >> i have to say i'm with you, savannah. i don't quite get the eddie haskell reference, however, voters are a little older in the democratic primary in florida so maybe at this point you hit them with something they're familiar with.

    >> and no one loves an eddie haskell reference more than i do, but it doesn't seem to quite p fit.

    >> doesn't seem 21st century to you?

    >> he was always sucking up to mrs. cleaver.

    >> you look wonderful today, mrs. cleaver.

    >> awkward.

By
updated 6/14/2010 10:17:50 AM ET 2010-06-14T14:17:50

Boxer Mike Tyson was the best man at his wedding. Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss lived in his guest house. And the television ads for Jeff Greene's out-of-nowhere bid for Florida's Senate seat are financed by a fortune made from betting on the fall of the housing market.

Too much baggage for a candidate?

Not for Greene in an antiestablishment year that has been a boon to political outsiders.

A recent poll finds the Palm Beach billionaire has spent his way into a near tie with Rep. Kendrick Meek, who has been in the race for the Democratic nomination for months. While Meek hasn't bought TV ads so he can conserve his cash, Greene's heavily circulated commercials describe him as "an outsider willing to take on the career politicians."

Though Meek has served in public office since his election to the state House in 1994 at age 28, the Miami congressman still struggles with statewide name recognition. So does Greene — but he has the cash to make up the difference.

Greene, 55, says he'll spend whatever it takes to win. He's already spent $4 million. Meek's campaign had almost $4 million in the bank March 31, according to his last federal report, but hasn't done much TV advertising.

A telemarketing and real estate entrepreneur who has been a millionaire for decades, Greene shot into billionaire status in the housing market collapse. Forbes estimated his fortune at $1.25 billion last year and listed him at No. 317 on its list of richest Americans. He was among the few who foresaw that the housing bubble would burst and jumped on the winning end of complex financial derivatives that collapsed some Wall Street investment banks.

Great for his business, but not a story that would endear him to some voters. Yet Greene is among several superrich business leaders in contention for seats against political mainstays. Former eBay CEO and President Meg Whitman and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina have captured the GOP nomination for governor and Senate in California. Rick Scott, who made millions running a hospital chain, suddenly is making a strong run in Florida's gubernatorial race.

Greene's promise to use his business success to "shake up Washington" has been heard in various forms from other wealthy players in politics, with mixed results.

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is serving his third term as mayor of New York, and Fiorina and Whitman are strong candidates. But there are plenty of failures, such as magazine titan Steve Forbes, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 and 2000, and Mitt Romney, who also failed to capture the Republican nomination in 2008.

Attention on Florida's heated Senate race has focused largely on Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent after abandoning the Republican Party, and conservative Republican Marco Rubio, the tea party favorite who forced Crist out of the GOP.

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Two months ago, political analysts expected that Crist's shift to independent would split the GOP vote and give Meek, who appeared a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, an outside chance of winning the seat. Now Crist is courting groups that historically supported Democrats, and Greene's television blitz has put him in serious contention to upset Meek in the Aug. 24 primary.

The best way to get name recognition quickly in a state as large as Florida is on TV — Greene's strength. If he keeps his commercials on the air, his name recognition could outstrip Meek's in a few weeks, said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida.

"Up until now we haven't had a primary," said Meek's spokesman Adam Sharon. He said TV ads cost about $1.5 million a week in Florida, money is finite and Meek "will go on television at the right time."

The TV ads have given Greene the ability to define himself.

And they are not about the colorful characters in his past.

After serving prison time for running a high-priced Los Angeles prostitution ring, Fleiss became a victim of domestic violence. Greene says she came to him looking for help. Greene says he befriended Tyson after the former heavyweight boxing champion had served time for rape. He said he believes in redemption.

"I don't live my life looking over my shoulder, worried about who my friends are in case I ever run for office," he says.

Greene's loose party affiliation could be an issue for voters. He ran as a Republican in a 1982 California congressional race, loosing in the primaries. Since then he's mostly registered as an independent.

Greene has not released his tax returns, a voluntary step most candidates follow. He's also asked for an extension in filing the personal financial disclosure form.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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