Jeff Greene has an uphill battle to win a Senate seat, but Florida politics is a rollercoster

Mike Riggs Contributor
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Jeff Greene got rich betting against the real estate market. Now he’s hoping to get elected to the Senate from a state whose economy has been devastated by the collapse of that very market.

In a lot of the places, that might be a tough sell. But this is Florida, where drama and scandal have tainted virtually every prominent politician running for office this year. So Greene, a billionaire Democrat, has decided to address the matter head-on. “Did you really ‘pioneer credit default swaps’ and profit off of foreclosures as some people have said?” reads a question in the FAQ section of his campaign website.

Greene doesn’t exactly deny it. Instead, he readily admits that he was one of the first investors to dip his toe in the credit default swap pool. The water felt good, he jumped in, and now he’s rich as hell.

And surprised. “Never did I imagine that the subprime mortgage market would implode, and I would make hundreds of millions of dollars,” Greene explains on his site. “My motivation was to protect the successful business I had built and the jobs I had created. I hoped that people would be able to make their payments and keep their homes, but I also knew that hope doesn’t pay the bills.”

“Jeff is the guy who saw the crisis coming, did something about it, and protected his investment,” said Greene’s flack Paul Blank. “Do voters want him, or the person who failed to see things coming?” The person who failed, according to Blank, is Greene’s main opponent, Rep. Kendrick Meek, who was a featured speaker at how-to subprime mortgage seminars throughout South Florida at the height of the mortgage crisis. “People are looking for an alternative. [Greene]’s an outsider, he’s a jobs creator, he’s independent of this corrupt political system.”

Not bad. But getting rich off the mortgage crisis may not be the strongest charge against Greene. That would be carpet bagging. “Is it true that you just moved to Florida and have no real connection to the state?” reads another question on his site.

In response to this claim, which longtime Florida residents take as seriously as their Hydrilla problem (very), Greene points out the he’s lived in the state off and on for over four decades, and that “during high school I worked alongside my dad on his vending machine routes throughout South Florida.”

It’s a savvy ploy. Floridians love vending machine stockers, and hold them right up there in the ranks of everyday heroism with firefighters and the cabana boys who help leathery Boca snowbirds carry their drink trays back to the shuffleboard court. Carpet-bagger or not, Jeff Greene clearly knows Florida. He’s worth watching.