Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene entered the race for Florida Governor late, days before qualifying ended late last month.
Since active, the Democrat has made up for lost time, running television ads in markets like Jacksonville where the only other opponent to buy time has been Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.
Can Greene run a sprint toward the finish line and win this race? Despite running a different kind of campaign than the other four in the Democratic field, he asserts that it’s possible.
And, in what has to be considered a shiv at the conventional wisdom, he claims he’s the best-positioned candidate to go up against a Republican who will be well-funded and backed by outside forces that would overwhelm the rest of the field.
We caught up with Greene in Jacksonville at a coffee shop in the hipster-heavy King Street Corridor, and the candidate seemed unfazed by going up against primary opponents, such as Gwen Graham and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who have had a year and a half to ramp up, both in Northeast Florida and throughout the state.
“If people are running for a year, a year and a half, whatever it may be,” Greene added, “by two months before the election, there [should be] some real excitement about at least one of the candidates.”
“There’s no excitement about any of the candidates,” Greene continued. “They haven’t raised any money.”
“You look at the amount of money Andrew Gillum has raised: two-and-a-half million dollars,” Greene said, calling that “pretty pathetic.”
“Gwen Graham, a few million dollars, but she’s got her dad — a very popular former Governor, U.S. Senator, running around the country, and she’s only able to raise three or four million dollars,” Greene said, later noting that the Grahams made the drive to Palm Beach to hit him up for cash before he got in the race.
(A member of the Graham campaign noted, upon reading this, that they’ve raised approximately $10 million.)
“Philip Levine, he’s put a lot of his own liquidity in the race, but same kinds of numbers,” Greene continued, noting that much of what Levine raised was brought in when he was Mayor of Miami Beach from “people wanting to do business with Miami Beach.”
“Look what Adam Putnam’s raised: he’s raised 30 million dollars,” Greene said.
“So the reality is: it’s not just whether they’re electable. Of course, they’re not electable, because they can’t possibly compete against the kind of Republican right-wing machine we’ve been competing against as Democrats for the past 20 years. We’ve been losing,” Greene said.
“To win the race … you have to be a great candidate. If you have the benefit of money, you can use it to get your message out,” Greene said. “That’s what I know I can do.”
Greene noted that his opponents weren’t creating “excitement” and can’t “get their message right,” and that’s why they are languishing behind Republicans in fundraising.
“If any of these candidates were great candidates,” Greene said, “they would have raised 30 million dollars. They haven’t raised the money because they haven’t been the kinds of candidates who inspired the Democratic base [even though] they’ve been running around the country for a year and a half.”
A discussion of money — specifically, the funding of Gillum by left-wing billionaires George Soros and Tom Steyer — soon followed, with Greene amplifying critiques that Soros and Steyer wouldn’t back Gillum without expectations of quid pro quo.
“George Soros has been to my home for dinner. I’ve been to his apartment in New York for dinner. I know George Soros, OK? He has an agenda. He’s a smart guy. He knows what he wants to get done, and he puts money behind people who are going to support his agenda,” Greene said.
“If Andrew Gillum thinks somebody’s giving him a million dollars to just go do what he wants,” Greene said, “I think he’s very naive.”
“Tom Steyer … we’re both in similar circumstances financially, we both want to make a difference, and it’s the same thing. Tom Steyer has a very specific agenda,” Greene asserted.
“I’m a very wealthy guy,” Greene said. “Before I gave somebody a million dollars, I would absolutely want to know where it’s going … when people write checks, any philanthropy, they do their homework.”
“I can’t tell you what arrangement anyone has,” Greene said. “[Gillum] keeps attacking me for my success, which I think is really unacceptable. I’ve worked my whole life to be successful … I’ve done this all on my own.”
Greene has polled in single digits in public surveys. When asked if his television ad buys had moved the needle, however, he said “absolutely” — though he demurred from sharing specific numbers.
“We’re doing better than we even expected.”
“We got in late, admittedly. But I think that my message is the one that will resonate with Florida voters,” Greene said. “We’ve absolutely tested it. We know that who I am, what I can do, is absolutely what’s good for Florida and what Floridians need and want.”
“We will get traction. None of the other candidates have,” Greene added.
Noting that nearly half of surveyed likely voters are undecided, Greene asserts that his campaign can get those voters “off the fence.”
“I’m not some guy in his 30s. I’m 63 years old. I’ve made some mistakes in my life,” Greene said, adding that he knows “how to get from Point A to Point B.”
“The best thing for Democrats is they have someone who can win this race,” Greene said. “I’m going to spend what’s needed to go against Republicans.”
The others, Greene said, lack the resources to go up against the tentacles of the Republican octopus: the “Donald Trump, David Koch, Shel Adelson, Tea Party funded Republican machine.”
Greene, who lacks the grassroots infrastructure of the more established campaigns, vowed to make up for lost time, to “work harder than any other candidate, to be in more cities, to spend time meeting voters.”
Ultimately, Greene believes the requisite financial resources are there for him in a way they aren’t for others in the field. And the grassroots will follow.
Democrats, he said, “are looking for a new kind of leader.”
Greene, eight years ago, presented a challenge to an establishment Democrat in the Senate race. Greene lost by 26 points to Kendrick Meek, who himself went on to finish third in the general election.
Greene, despite spending more on advertising (to quote Rick Wilson, Greene was “killing” Meek in mail and television), couldn’t get over the hump.
It remains to be seen if history will repeat itself. Greene (who made a chunk of his fortune off credit default swaps) has entered this race late, with enough personal resources to buy name ID, but expect that if he gets close, opponents will have oppo (such as his past as a Republican Congressional candidate) at the ready.