Accessory to the Candidate

In anticipation of Florida’s primary day, August 24, the St. Petersburg Times on Sunday helped acquaint readers with the wives of all four candidates for Senate with a profile by Cristina Silva. Yes, appearances matter in political campaigns and a candidate’s spouse has a specific, limited role to play. Still, I’m not sure I’ve heard that put quite like this before:

Florida’s Senate race is about four men elbowing each other in a fierce bid to join the most powerful legislative branch in the United States.

But behind the candidates’ nasty accusations are four spouses with mirror ambitions. They are their husbands’ ultimate political accessories, the lapel flag in human form: slim legs, coiffed hair, dazzling smiles, a walking thesaurus of their spouses’ winning attributes.

Carole Crist. Mei Greene. Leslie Meek. Jeanette Dousdebes-Rubio.

And while they may all sound like ideal, um, lapel candy, one of these women apparently required, as accessories sometimes do, some extra polish prior to the campaign. Silva reports that Democratic candidate Jeff Greene’s wife, Mei Sze Chan, “was a socialite known for belly-bearing shirts and thigh-grazing skirts” but now she wears, writes Silva, “stylish but conservative clothes that cover her chest, stomach and inner thighs.”

(Ladies: be “red-hot, smoking” on the campaign trail….just, in a blue blazer.)

UPDATE: Also in Florida’s papers over the weekend? Profiles of the two Democratic candidates for Senate, Jeff Greene and Kendrick Meek.

Writes the SPT’s Adam C. Smith of candidate Greene:

Send Jeff Greene to the U.S. Senate, and what do you get?

Maybe a self-made success story who doesn’t owe anyone anything, a tough man who could not care less about special interest campaign checks or endorsements, and only wants to do what’s right…

Or maybe your new senator is a tyrant and egomaniac who spends six years embarrassing Florida.

Either alternative looks plausible in the case of Greene, a political blank slate with a track record of remarkable success — and sheer tackiness.

On the one hand, Greene’s billionaire wealth is completely of his own doing, from mining side jobs to put himself through college to spot-on betting against the subprime mortgage market.

But behind the bio sound bites and chipper TV ads lies a man widely disparaged by current and former employees, former tenants and political consultants as a self-absorbed cheapskate. A lawsuit accuses him of being cruel and verbally abusive to his former chef. A deck hand electrocuted on Greene’s Summerwind yacht had to fight eight months to get his medical bills paid after Greene denied knowing him.

Then there’s the part when the electrocuted deck hand talks about the time when Greene’s “party yacht” “went to Cuba, everybody talked about the vomit caked all over the sides from all the partying going on,” which the Miami Herald’s Beth Reinhard flags as perhaps the most eye-catching bit in the piece, at least for some Florida voters. (And not because of the vomit).

Reinhard wrote a profile of Greene’s primary opponent, Kendrick Meek, for Saturday’s Miami Herald, which begins:

Congressman Kendrick Meek readily admits he would not be where he is today without his mother.

The twice-divorced mother of three rose from riot-torn Miami to become one of Florida’s first black members of Congress since Reconstruction. Now the son, who took her seat, is waging a historic campaign to be the state’s first black U.S. senator.

“She’s the woman that I give all of the credit,” Meek recently told a hotel ballroom full of Democratic activists and politicians. “The reason why I’m in public service.”

Carrie Meek could also be the reason — at least partly — for the end of his political career.

His bare-knuckled and deep-pocketed opponent in the Democratic primary, real estate mogul Jeff Greene, has been pummeling Meek over his family’s ties to a developer charged with massive fraud. Meek sought millions of federal dollars for a developer who had paid his mother a consulting fee of $90,000 and a Cadillac Escalade.

And, maybe not the best way to wean reporters off the “Mama’s Boy” storyline:

Carrie Meek’s influence is pervasive throughout her youngest child’s life, though the 43-year-old father of two teenagers said tersely, “The milk is dry from around my mouth by now.”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.