The Democratic regulars at the annual Palm Bay Democratic Club luncheon in Melbourne listen politely to a procession of pitches by state and local candidates, most of whom ignore the timekeeper who waves her napkin in the air when the allotted five minutes are up.
The luncheon's silent auction features two bottles of peach schnapps and a red campaign T-shirt from the 1980s touting then-Dade County state's attorney Janet Reno— autographed by the woman who would become President Clinton's attorney general, $5 minimum bid.
Club officer Marcie Ramirez, who has never met Greene but has been assigned to introduce him, jokes that she has been having breakfast, lunch and dinner with him at home. That reference to the crush of TV ads he has been airing draws knowing laughter.
In his ads and his speech, Greene, 55, portrays himself as a savvy businessman and a Washington outsider ready to take on "career politicians" who are leading the country astray. Making a fortune in the subprime mortgage meltdown, he ranks No. 317 on Forbes' list of the richest Americans.
"This is a seat that Kendrick Meek cannot win," Greene says in a brief interview afterwards — not because of his race but because "people are fed up" with politicians and Meek is tainted by "one of the worst corruption scandals in Florida history." He is referring to federal funding Meek sought for a developer, now awaiting trial on fraud charges, who put Meek's mother on his payroll. Meek succeeded his mother, Carrie, in Congress in 2003.
Outside the glass doors, Kendrick Meek is climbing out of his car. The two men haven't seen one another since Greene launched his challenge.
"Hello, Kendrick," Greene says. "How are you doing?"
"Hello, haven't seen you," Meek replies as the two warily shake hands while pivoting to engage others in the hallway.
Meek's speech gets a warmer reception than Greene's. He met some of these activists while collecting more than 125,000 signatures on petitions to get on the ballot, a task the Miami congressman began in part to increase his name recognition in central and northern Florida.
"It's not a mystery about my Democratic credentials," he tells them. That's a reference to the fact Greene has spent most of his adulthood registered as an independent and even as a Republican when he unsuccessfully sought a GOP congressional nomination in California in 1982.
A few hours later, at a $20.10-a-ticket fundraiser in the hotel, Meek asks whether anyone in the audience has a 3-year-old in the family. When a woman raises her hand, Meek says to laughter: "OK, he's been here (in Florida) longer than Jeff Greene." Greene moved to the state in 2008.
Even so, after just three weeks of TV ads featuring his 8-month-old son and 83-year-old mother, Greene scrambled political calculations when he nearly tied Meek in a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, trailing Meek by only 27% to 29% among likely Democratic primary voters.
Greene has increased the pressure on Meek to spend money on TV ads. In the latest Federal Election Commission reports, he has raised $5.7 million, compared with $10.2 million by Crist and $7 million by Rubio.