Conservatives seeking a gleam of hope amid gloomy prospects for November are beginning to turn their eyes toward sunny Florida, where an Iraq war veteran is waging a David-and-Goliath battle for Congress.
Allen West, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who made headlines five years ago with his gunpoint interrogation of an Iraqi prisoner, is challenging first-term Democratic Rep. Ron Klein in Florida’s 22nd District.
After the 2006 midterm meltdown that helped Klein defeat 13-term incumbent Clay Shaw, many Republicans — including presidential candidate Sen. John McCain — are campaigning as boring centrists.
West, however, is bringing a back-to-basics conservative message. He takes a strong stance against illegal immigration, favors drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and criticizes free-spending Washington ways.
“What you see happening is that the Republican Party has gotten away from its basic ideology,” West says, adding that 2006 “was a bad year for Republicans because they started acting like Democrats.”
TWO YEARS AGO, congressional scandals — including the House page imbroglio involving Rep. Mark Foley in the neighboring 16th district — helped drag down Shaw in the 22nd District.
Republicans were hurt, West says, by “the kind of corruption that people expect from liberal Democrats.” This year, West has sought to turn that issue around. He has criticized Klein for “personal earmarks totaling more than $12 million” and accused the incumbent of spending taxpayer money for mailings that contain “blatantly political statements.”
While Klein has an enormous fundraising advantage — as of April 1, the Democrat had about $2 million in campaign cash to about $100,000 for West — West points out that Klein is an incumbent in a year when congressional approval ratings are at an abysmal low.
West charges that much of Klein’s money comes from PACs and “special interests,” and he quotes the Florida Democratic Party chairwoman’s criticism of taxpayer-funded mailings: “The people of Florida are suffering…Your campaign coffers are not.”
The Republican challenger can expect a surge for his own campaign coffers, as he is rapidly emerging as a favorite of conservatives across the country.
West has already been featured in Human Events and other conservative publications, gotten a boost from the right side of the blogosphere, and appeared on radio talk shows with Laura Ingraham and Michael Savage.
Considering that Florida’s 22nd District is home to such media figures as Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh, it’s likely West will get more national attention as the campaign progresses.
WEST’S FIRST exposure to the media spotlight in 2003 was the result of an assassination plot against him while he was serving with the Army’s 4th Infantry Division in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle.
According to National Review, West was interrogating a prisoner (an Iraqi policeman identified by military intelligence as part of the plot) and fired a pistol next to the prisoner’s head. The prisoner confessed, giving up detailed information that helped foil a plot to ambush West’s unit.
“If you’re a bad guy, don’t ever get between me and the safety and the lives of the American people,” West says of the incident. “As a commander, your moral responsibility is to take care of your troops.”
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H/T to National Review Online