Races of the Week

Florida’s 22nd District: West vs. Klein

There are two reasons Republicans and conservatives in general throughout Florida’s 22nd District are passionate about defeating one-term Democratic Rep. Ron Klein.  The first is that, but for freakish circumstances in 2006, Clay Shaw would have clung onto the seat he had held since 1980 and gone on to be ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee.  But in the worst Republican election year since Watergate in 1974 and when scandal-plagued Rep. Mark Foley (R.-Fla.) was from the neighboring district, Shaw felt the voter fury against all Republicans and lost to Klein by 8,000 votes out of more than 200,000 cast. 

The other reason is retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Allen West, a much-decorated U.S. Army veteran who served stints in Iraq and Afghanistan.   Earlier this year, West attracted national attention by wrapping up the Republican nomination to oppose Klein.  Coupled with their desire to undo Shaw’s narrow loss, Republicans were well aware of the strong veteran population in the Fort-Lauderdale-Palm Beach district and rallied early behind West. 

If Virginia’s Jim Webb symbolized anti-war veterans elected to Congress as Democrats in ’06, West is emblematic of the pro-Iraq veterans running on the GOP line in ’08.  Tough, articulate, a military history buff who spices his defense of the U.S. mission in Iraq with references to Baron von Steuben, West was once criticized for rough handling of a prisoner — conduct that resulted in gaining information that almost surely saved Americans. 

But rather than recalling that or his two years of training the Afghan army, the GOP nominee gently changes the subject to his differences with opponent Klein on what he feels are key issues:  energy (“He voted for the Democrats’ energy bill and it’s a waste of money”), spending (“He’s for that expensive stimulus package — I’m for lower taxes and less spending, period!”)

Whether it’s as a scuba diver, coach of a champion track team, or fighting for his country, Allen West has always been a winner.  With help from his fellow conservatives, West can win once again — undoing the circumstances of ’06 and becoming congressman from Florida’s 22nd District in ’08.  

Texas’22nd U.S. House District: Olson vs. Lampson

By any stretch of the political imagination, Texas’ 22nd District should not be sending a Democrat to Washington.  With about half of its residents in Harris County — where one of the major employers is the Johnson Space Center — the 22nd gave roughly 64% of its votes to George W. Bush in 2004. 

So why, people might wonder, does Democrat Nick Lampson represent the 22nd in the House?  The answer lies in the ’06 election, which was freakish.  Although House Republican Leader Tom DeLay was indicted for alleged campaign finance violations in September ’05, the longtime congressman from the 22nd District nonetheless won renomination with 62% of the vote in March of ’06.  Three months later, DeLay announced his resignation from Congress but, following a protracted court fight launched by Lone Star Democrats, his name was forced to remain on the fall ballot.  There was a special election that Democrat Lampson did not contest and that Republican Shelly Sekula Gibbs won with 62% of the vote — and thus got to serve the remaining two months of DeLay’s term. 

But for the full term, with DeLay’s name forced to remain on the ballot, a write-in campaign was the only option for Sekula-Gibbs and she managed to pull only 42% of the vote (actually, quite impressive since her name isn’t the easiest to write in).  So that’s how Lampson, who represented a neighboring district from 1996 until his defeat in ’02, made it back to Congress. 

During his first stint in Congress, Lampson generally voted the liberal line (lifetime American Conservative Union rating:  21%).  In his present incarnation as congressman from a GOP-leaning district, Lampson has not trimmed his sails, compiling an ACU rating of  20%.  Most recently, he voted for the $289 billion farm bill with all kinds of subsidies for wealthy farmers (the President vetoed it, but was overridden). Lampson also voted for H.R. 800, the notorious Big Labor-backed “card check” bill denying the secret ballot in union elections. 

This record is why there is so much enthusiasm among Republican volunteers and small donors for GOP nominee Pete Olson, a U.S. Navy veteran and onetime top aide to Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.).  A graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas Law School, Olson was commissioned a naval officer on the same day he took his bar exam.  In taking on Lampson, the conservative hopeful’s message is succinct:  strong national security, securing the borders, energy independence (“The best solutions come when government gets out of the way and American ingenuity is turned loose”) and a health care system that permits small businesses to pool together and decrease costs. 

As he stumps the district and vividly contrasts his agenda with that of Lampson, Olson frequently cites his first boss after his discharge, former Sen. Phil Gramm (R.-Tex.):  “Phil always said we pay too much in taxes because the government spends too much.  That’s where I’m coming from” — and that’s why conservatives should rally to Pete Olson. 

Illinois’s 11th District: Ozinga vs. Halvorson

One way to get Republican U.S. House nominee Marty Ozinga fighting mad is to suggest that he is merely a son of inherited wealth and that the head of the Ozinga Brothers Concrete Company got where he is simply by being born. 

In truth, Ozinga has been an entrepreneur for most of his 58 years. Even before he entered Calvin College, the grandson of Dutch immigrants worked on every available job in the family business, from $1-an-hour yard laborer to driving concrete trucks.  When Marty graduated from college and took over the family business in 1973, it had one location and eighty employees. Today, it has more than 1,200 employees in more than 30 locations throughout the Chicago area. 

But Marty Ozinga is much more than capitalist and entrepreneur. Passionate about world affairs, he has volunteered for missionary work in third world countries to combat AIDS and malaria and launched a medical clinic in Romania to help with that country’s massive number of orphans. The father of six and grandfather of ten who has done considerable pro bono concrete work for different churches is also an unabashed cultural conservative, opposing abortion under any circumstances except to save the life of the mother. 

“Whether its taxes, spending, or foreign policy or cultural issues,” Will County GOP Chairman Dick Kavanagh said after Ozinga’s nomination for the seat of retiring Rep. Jerry Weller (R.-Ill.), “Marty presents the sharpest contrast with Debbie Halvorson.” 

The Democratic nominee, State Sen. Halvorson is a favorite of the rabidly pro-abortion EMILY’s List political action committee.  To no one’s surprise, she has opposed waiting periods before an abortion and even a ban on partial-birth abortions. On taxes, Halvorson has backed a gross receipts tax and an increase in the state income tax, and personally proposed a service tax for the Prairie State. 

In addition to issue differences, Halvorson will have to deal with her role in Springfield as one of the top lieutenants of Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Amid a sea of corruption probes and the nationally watched trial of Chicago “fixer” Tony Rezko, recent polls show that a majority of Illinois voters want Blagojevich impeached. 

Besides “son of inherited wealth,” another label that Marty Ozinga loathes is “self-funder.” For his campaign against Halvorsen, the conservative hopeful has so far raised more than $500,000 — most of it from friends and family, only a fraction from his own wallet. But given the differences between the candidates and the liberal political clout behind the Democrat, there is a strong case for more support for Marty Ozinga — from Illinois and nationwide.