Florida, Lately: Big Bucks and “Baggage”

And Heidi Fleiss

A roundup of recent campaign news from and about Florida:

Can you win a primary when the following three facts appear in nearly every news article about you: Mike Tyson was best man at your wedding; Heidi Fleiss lived in your guest house; and you made much of your fortune betting on the housing market collapse?

Jeff Greene, a self-funded Democratic candidate in Florida’s Senatorial race, will find out come August 24, primary day in Florida. And if the answer turns out to be “yes,” that last fact (the “fortune” part, at least) will have had something to do with it. Greene, who entered the race two months ago, has reportedly spent over $4 million of his own money so far and in a recent poll had pulled nearly even with his Democratic rival, Kendrick Meek.

To hear the Associated Press tell it, Greene’s “baggage” might not pose a problem this year (headline: “Dem surprises Fla. Senate race despite odd baggage”):

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…

Greene, 55, says he’ll spend whatever it takes to win.

Politico’s Jonathan Martin argued Wednesday that Greene’s “baggage” could be good news for Republican-turned-Independent candidate for Senate, Charlie Crist; that it might just be causing “Democrats” to “flirt with backing Crist.”


[W]ith Greene promising to drop at least $40 million of his fortune on the primary and pulling neck and neck with Meek in one survey, Sunshine State Democrats are beginning to consider the increasingly realistic prospect that their nominee might be a “[housing] meltdown mogul”— one who collects erotic art, had Mike Tyson serve as his best man and once hosted “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss as a house guest.

Faced with such an awkward possibility, many influential Democrats indicated that supporting Crist — who has quickly moved leftward since leaving the GOP — or just remaining quiet would be the better of the unenviable options…

With Greene’s baggage and Crist’s efforts to woo liberals and moderates, senior national Democrats indicate privately that they’d most likely remain on the sidelines if Meek is not the nominee.

It all adds up to this: Crist, written off this spring after being effectively pushed out of the GOP by Rubio, could emerge as the de facto Democratic nominee this fall.

Greene is not the only self-funder spending and polling well in a Florida race. In a piece headlined “Bizarro Politics Comes to Florida,” NPR’s Ken Rudin notes that in addition to Greene–-who, yes, “Mike Tyson was the best man at his wedding, Heidi Fleiss lived in his guest house after she left prison, and he made much of his fortune from betting on the fall of the housing market” –-Rick Scott, “a multi-millionaire former health care executive, jumped into the GOP race for governor and now leads [Bill] McCollum by 13 points in the latest Quinnipiac poll.”

Continues Rudin:

What accounts for their sudden success? Money. Scott has spent more than $12 million on his race, and Greene says he will spend as much as $40 million to win his primary. Much of their money has been directed towards buying up media time.

About that “buying,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, wrote recently at the WSJ Capital Journal blog:

Money may not buy happiness, but it can buy elections. Along with the anti-establishment political wave sweeping the country this year, candidates with deep pockets and a desire for high office are becoming the story of the 2010 election in Florida.

The Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to pour almost unlimited amounts of cash into campaigns has been the focus of concern about how that money might influence elections.

But here in Florida, corporations haven’t been flooding the airwaves with TV ads, as opponents of the court decision have feared.

Instead, two very, very wealthy political neophytes – neither has run for political office before – are essentially using their personal fortunes to try to buy a U.S. Senate seat and a four-year stay at the governor’s mansion.

(Brown also mentioned— check!— Fleiss, Tyson and how Greene made his money, which “certainly sets him apart from most pols.”)

Greene’s and Scott’s “deep pockets” haven’t endeared them to everyone (see, for example, “Political ‘outsiders’ Rick Scott, Jeff Greene are just wealthy opportunists,” by Palm Beach Post staff writer Frank Cerabino or “Big Money Drowns out other voices,” by the St. Petersburg Times editorial board.)

Perhaps more endearing? According to the Miami Herald’s Naked Politics blog:

After punting on a question about Colombia’s human rights record, Greene told The Miami Herald editorial board today: “I know as much as the average person who reads the newspaper.”

Finally, more on the Fleiss Factor, from the St. Petersburg Times’s Adam C. Smith last week:

What’s most striking [about candidate Greene] is how often I find myself asking him or his campaign handlers questions I never dreamed I’d be asking a statewide candidate in Florida:

When notorious Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss lived with you for a year, were you romantic? No, he said, he was helping out a friend in need.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.