“You didn’t think an old infantry colonel was going down, did you?”
That’s how freshman Rep. Allen West (R.-Fla.), decorated U.S. Army veteran of three wars and swashbuckling conservative, greeted HUMAN EVENTS at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. We knew immediately what he meant: after weeks of reports that the Republican-controlled legislature in Florida would leave West in a district even more difficult for him to win than that he first captured in 2010, the lawmakers actually carved a new, more Republican-friendly district in which the soldier-congressman plans to move and run in.
And the situation is not that bad for Republicans in the remnants of West’s old Palm Beach-based district. Within days of the announcement of the new congressional district map carved by the legislators, former State House GOP Leader Adam Hasner announced he was leaving the U.S. Senate primary to run for the newly-carved 22nd District (now held by West). A conservative in the mold of West and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Hasner is likely to face a tough November battle against liberal Democrat and former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel.
As for Allen West, the political picture is much brighter for the lawmaker who has become a fixture on cable TV talk shows (and is one of two Republican House Members who happen to be African American). He is planning to move about 60 miles north to the new district that has a slight Republican voting edge. Moreover, having raised more than $5 million, West enters the race with formidable artillery.
But it is not a slam dunk for him. Last week, Martin County Sheriff Robert Crowder signaled he would challenge West in the August primary on the grounds that “this area needs someone who knows the district.”
But most Florida Republican activists have no problems with West in the district and they have considerable problems with more moderate Crowder. Two years ago, Crowder infuriated fellow GOPers when he cut a TV spot for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink, who lost to Republican Rick Scott. In ’06, Crowder refused to support Republican State Rep. Joe Negron for Congress after incumbent Republican Mark Foley stepped down (Negron lost to a Democrat).
“West is the stronger candidate. He didn’t do anything silly like endorsing Democrats in the last election,” St. Lucie GOP Chairman Bill Patterson told the Sunshine News.
“He’s delusional,” Martin County Executive Committee member Chuck Winn said of Crowder.
Most of the Republican Party officials in St. Lucie and Martin Counties (which comprise the bulk of the 18th District) are expected to weigh in for West.
Although charges of “carpet-bagging” and opportunism are common regarding congressmen who move to districts more politically friendly, voters have a history of understanding lawmakers who move because redistricting forces them to. Historian David Pietrusza, who knows all things New York, recalled how the Republican-run legislature “gerrymandered [Democratic Rep.] Sam Stratton in upstate New York in 1960. He moved to a phony residence in Amsterdam [from Schenectady, where he had been mayor], but no one held it against him because they knew he was forced to do it.”
Should West emerge as the GOP nominee in the new 18th District, he is expected to face the same Democrat he would have faced in the old 22nd: Patrick Erin Murphy, multimillionaire “green contractor,” who had criticized the Republican congressman for moving to the new district to run and is now doing the same thing.
As one local wag put it, “Murphy called Allen West a coward for moving north to run and now he’s moving north, too. Maybe he’ll keep moving north and decide to run in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where they used to have a Democratic congressman named Patrick Murphy [who lost re-election in ’10 and is now running for state attorney general].”