Rep. Allen West relies on familiar, hard-hitting style in fight to retain House seat

FILE: Aug. 12, 2012: Republican Rep. Allen West speaks at a senior center in Boca Raton, Fla.

FILE: Aug. 12, 2012: Republican Rep. Allen West speaks at a senior center in Boca Raton, Fla.  (Reuters)

Republican Rep. Allen West is trying to fend off a tough re-election challenge the same way he won election in 2010 and established himself in Congress – with a hard-hitting campaign that lets voters know exactly where he stands.

The Florida congressman appeared to be the primary target for national Democrats soon after being elected, considering his status as Tea Party star and outspoken critic of some members of the opposite political party.

Yet with just a few weeks remaining before Election Day, West, who has moved to Florida’s newly redrawn 18 congressional district, appears to be holding on to a slight lead, according to the most recent poll.

Jeff Roe, a Republican strategist and founder of Missouri-based Axiom Strategies, this weekend called West’s lead  “about as competitive of a margin” as a down-ticket candidate can get during a presidential election year -- marked largely by partisan voters deciding early in the cycle, followed by a few wide swings.

West leads political newcomer and Democrat Patrick Murphy 53-41 percent, with 6.8 percent of voters being undecided, according to polls released last week by St.PetePolls.org.

The non-partisan Rothberg Political Report has the race as “toss-up/ leaning Republican.”

However, the Murphy campaign argues West is fading in the homestretch -- citing two other recent polls that show Murphy leading, including a Sept. 30 poll released by Republican pollster Kimball Political Consulting that found Murphy leading West 49-45 percent.

“West’s campaign is in full-blown panic mode following these new developments in the race showing that millions of outside dollars and divisive rhetoric don’t translate into support,” said Murphy spokeswoman Erin Moffet.  

Still, Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on why Allen, 51, has a good shot at keeping his seat against Murphy and helping his party maintain control of the chamber: a slightly more favorable district and being a compelling candidate who can attract independent voters and accumulate a huge war chest to pay for withering attack ads. 

Roe said Murphy has run a cookie cutter campaign while West continues to deliver a message that has helped him “overperform among independents.”

“They like Allen West because he’s not a B.S. kind of guy,” Roe said. “People like him. People respect him. He tells it the way he sees it. Patrick Murphy is a political candidate out of central casting. Allen West is not. He talks about veterans’ issues. He’s spoken to the voters.”

Democratic strategist David Heller argues West’s high-profile and sometimes controversial style also has helped Murphy raise money. He also said West’s new district, which is largely in West Palm Beach, is less expensive for TV compared to his former Miami-center district, further helping the incumbent.  

The most well-known ad -- in what is among just a few national House races -- is about how Murphy, shown in a mug shot, was ejected from a South Beach bar in 2003 for being drunk, then arrested after a confrontation with police.

Nat Sillin, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, calls West’s ad campaign “soul crushing” for Murphy.

With roughly $4 million raised and $3 million cash on hand, according to the most recent campaign filings, West, after some concern, appears to be in a good position.

As proof, Sillin argues, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is pulling out the race, leaving Murphy to rely on money from House Majority PAC.

“National Democrats are throwing in the towel on Patrick Murphy's sinking campaign,” he said. “The more voters get to know Murphy and his policies, the less they like him. And now even his party leaders are abandoning ship."  \

The House Majority PAC said Monday the group has in fact increased its ad buying by $1.5 million for that race.