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Greene and Democrats in Awkward Dance

Nearly even with U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek in polls, U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene could be the Democratic Party’s nominee this fall.

But the candidate and the party hardly know each other.

Greene, a multi-millionaire who is largely self-financing his campaign, pulled nearly even with establishment Democratic favorite Kendrick Meek by buying millions of dollars worth of television ads to jumpstart a campaign launched on the final day of qualifying for federal races this spring.

But spending $6 million out of pocket meant Greene, a first time candidate who is also a relatively new resident of the state, spent little time getting to know the leaders of the party whose nomination he hopes to claim.

Greene talks often on the campaign trail and in ubiquitous television commercials about his tenure in the business world, when he made millions investing – critics say speculating - in real estate. The meetings he has these days are nothing like the ones he had then.

In addition to giving speeches and debating Meek – the pair have three scheduled before the Aug. 24 primary – Greene spends a lot of his days on the campaign trail this summer meeting with local Democratic elected officials, including a recent meeting at a Tallahassee coffee shop.

The difference is night and day, he said after 30 minutes of speaking with a Tallahassee state representative and members of the city and county commissions and board of education.

“When you own you’re own business, people are coming to sell me stuff,” he said. “Here, I feel like I’m trying to gain the confidence of community leaders.”

Most official Democratic officials have lined up behind Meek though, siding with the long-term Miami Congressman who has been in the Senate race since 2009. Even those who have not publicly taken sides are trying to feel out the man whose best man was Mike Tyson as much as the rookie candidate is trying to take the measure of local leaders.
It sometimes has the feel of an awkward first date. State Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, who talked energy with Greene during his visit to Leon County, said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the first-time candidate.

“Sometimes fellas coming straight out of business don’t understand that government is different than business,” she said. “They have an attitude that government should be run like a business, when really it isn’t like a business at all. But I think he’s thinking about the issues and he’s got ideas.”

Vasilinda said Greene’s roundtables with Democratic elected officials were a “good way to start to get to know the players” in the party, but she said he would be wise to meet with Democratic activists too.

Greene has taken other steps to ingratiate himself to the Democratic establishment. In lieu of bringing flowers, his campaign purchased nine tables at the party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner. During his speech, he promised to support Meek if he loses the primary to him.

The love has not necessarily been reciprocated – by Meek or the party. Meek has pointedly not said he will support Greene if he wins the primary and the state party has not wavered in its support of Meek, even as Greene has surged in polls.

Unbowed by the cold shoulder from the establishment, Greene, who blasts Meek regularly as a “career politician,” spends a lot of time doing the things people who hope to make politics a career do.

“This is what my days are like now,” he said as an aide pulled him away from an interview with the News Service. “I started in St. Petersburg…and I’ll finish in Jacksonville, with Tallahassee in between.

“It’s a big state and there are a lot of important issues,” Greene said. “I want to reach out to people.”

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