Conservatives from Florida to Washington, D.C., were shaken last week as one of the best-known of their voices in Congress was dealt the worst possible hand in the redistricting process. With the release of preliminary maps for Florida’s new congressional districts, the incumbent who inarguably was hit hardest in the process was freshman Republican Allen West, retired U.S. Army colonel and swashbuckling Tea Party conservative.
Originating from the Republican-run state senate, the maps, to be sure, are preliminary and nothing more. The final lines for the state’s 27 U.S. House districts will be drawn up by the House and Senate in January and become law if they survive a court challenge. So the actual fate of West’s 22nd district is a ways off, although the maps were a clear clue as to where the Republican-controlled legislature is headed.
As long feared by political observers (among them HUMAN EVENTS), the 22nd District held by West (who is also one of two African-American Republicans in Congress) lost several Republican bastions, including Palm Beach Gardens, to the neighboring district held by two-term GOPer Tom Rooney. To make matters worse for West, the new 22nd will gain Democrat-heavy turf from the neighboring districts of Democratic Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz (who is also Democratic National Chairman) and Ted Deutch.
In short, West, who narrowly unseated a Democratic incumbent last year in a district that gave about 48% of its votes to John McCain in ’08, will be seeking reelection in a district in which about 44% of its votes went to McCain. Clearly sensing that West would be a target next year, two heavyweight Democrats—former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel and millionaire businessman Patrick Murphy of Broward—have both signaled they are running in the 22nd.
As if to confirm speculation that West was one of their top targets, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week unleashed a broadside of radio spots attacking the embattled incumbent “for supporting tax breaks for upper-income households and opposing Obama’s approach to deficit reduction,” according to the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.
Should the preliminary maps’ new congressional districts prevail in the Sunshine State, West will have two options: He can either seek reelection in the new 22nd or take on fellow Republican Rooney in the neighboring district, which is now solidly Republican. To the dismay of some on the right, he ruled out a bid for the U.S. Senate seat of Democrat Bill Nelson several weeks ago.
Whatever course Allen West takes, neither pundit nor pol of any political stripe writes him off. With $4 million in his campaign kitty and a fervent nationwide following from his regimen of speeches and talk show appearances, the two-fisted veteran of three wars remains, as one admirer said, “a force of nature.”