What do you do if you're a carpetbagging billionaire with a party-hearty past trying to connect with ordinary Florida voters?
Call your mother.
Because even if you don't like U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene, a 55-year-old real estate tycoon who moved to Florida in 2008, you'll love his mother, Barbara, an 83-year-old, Canasta-playing, line-dancing resident of Century Village in West Palm Beach for more than three decades.
This mother wouldn't let a visitor leave her home on a rainy afternoon until she served a bowl of watermelon, packed up some homemade mandel bread, and provided an umbrella for the walk to the car.
Who better to vouch for Greene at a time when his chief Democratic competitor, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami, is accusing him of trying to buy the election with "ill-gotten" spoils from the real estate market's collapse?
"My Jeff — he'll shake things up in Washington and he'll get results — that's what he does," Barbara Greene says in the commercial that began airing last week and shows her son helping to do the dishes.
She lives about nine miles west of her son's $24 million Palm Beach mansion, in a modest, first-floor condominium he bought her for $70,000. That was an upgrade. She had been living in a rundown nearby condo since 1978 and refused her son's offer of a high-rise with a doorman.
A new Century Village address sat empty for months until she finally moved in last year.
"I was satisfied to stay in my other place, but he couldn't stand it," Barbara Greene said during an interview at her kitchen table. "Jeff wants me to have what he thinks is the best and go out to lunch, but I'm very happy in my own kitchen."
The longtime widow drives a Toyota Corolla with a green ribbon tied around the antenna so she can easily spot it in parking lots. She recalled cooking the noodle casseroles for her son's bar-mitzvah party and buying him clothes on sale at Filene's Basement when he was in college.
"I've always been ultra conservative, frugal," she said. "I was always worried about the future."
Mothers of national candidates from John McCain to Joe Biden to George W. Bush have served as powerful and irreproachable surrogates for their sons. Candidates are fair game for tough questions, but their sweet, white-haired mothers? Show some respect.
Indeed, Barbara Greene landed her son a coveted speaking slot last week at the Century Village Democratic club, even though an organizer boasted that their meetings are usually booked three months in advance.
"I want to be the first U.S. senator from Century Village," the candidate joked to the friendly crowd of about 100 people. "I feel like this is where I am from."