Rubio won't back off stance on Gulf drilling
CLEARWATER - On his first day as the presumptive Republican Senate nominee, Marco Rubio invaded the home turf of his no-party opponent Gov. Charlie Crist on Friday, making a brief visit to greet volunteers at the Rubio campaign headquarters in Clearwater. "My message won't change," a clearly happy Rubio told supporters there. But Rubio, long a proponent of expanded offshore oil drilling, didn't give a definitive answer to questions from reporters on a subject important to the Gulf Coast residents, the huge oil spill in the Gulf and what it means for future drilling there. "It would be irresponsible to make any line-in-the-sand statements until all the information is known," he said.Meanwhile, the already complicated Senate race got even more complicated Friday when Jeff Greene, a billionaire real estate investor, joined the Democratic primary race, calling himself "the only candidate who isn't a career politician." "All of the major candidates for Florida's U.S. Senate seat have been inside government for the past 10 years, and during those 10 years, things have only gotten worse," he said. Greene, 55, lives in Palm Beach with his wife, Mei Sze, and their son. According to a 2008 Forbes profile, when Greene lived in Los Angeles, he grew up the child of a working-class Jewish family in Massachusetts, where his father sold textile machinery. He became wealthy investing in real estate, and struck it rich betting against real estate values during the economic collapse. Greene said he won't accept contributions to his campaign from "special interests" and donations larger than $100. If he seeks to mount a serious campaign, Greene is likely to spend large amounts of his own money on the race. If so, under federal campaign finance law, it could increase the contribution limits for other candidates in the Democratic primary. Greene will face U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, former Miami mayor Maurice Ferre, former North Miami Mayor Kevin Burns and Glenn Burkett of Naples in the Aug. 24 primary. Greene considered buying a majority interest in the Tampa Bay Lightning last year but declined in October after examining the deal. The hockey team was eventually purchased by Jeff Vinik. Despite his Harvard Business School MBA, Greene has been largely unknown politically. However, he has rubbed elbows with the famous and infamous, having Mike Tyson as best man at his wedding and "Hollywood Madam" Heidi Fleiss in a guest house when she became a domestic violence victim. The mood at Rubio's headquarters on the day after Crist announced his decision to leave the GOP primary was ebullient. "We're very excited, very motivated. We won the primary four months early," said volunteer Eileen Blackmer of St. Petersburg. Rubio joked with the group. "Any billionaires file against me?" he asked. Asked whether the race has changed, he said, "It's just more people to talk to, a bigger electorate," meaning he now considers the race to consist solely of the Nov. 2 general election. "But I'm not going to change my message," he said. Rubio fended off repeated reporter questions about whether the Republican insistence on expanded offshore drilling over the past two years, exemplified by the "Drill, baby, drill" chants heard routinely at GOP rallies, was misplaced. "The question is why did this happen and is this something that has the potential to be commonplace or is it an isolated instance," he said. "Until that question is answered, everything else that you're talking about is premature and hypothetical." Rubio acknowledged, "I've always supported the United States having all of its energy resources at its disposal." Last year, in a video posted on the website of the Newt Gingrich organization American Solutions, Rubio said, "I've joined the 'drill here, drill now, pay less' effort. ... Now is the time for us to exploit all the energy sources available to us including petroleum reserves that our country has that have not been drilled for."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. Reporter William March can be reached at (813) 259-7761.