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Two months later, however, the Army told West he had a choice: Retire or face a court-martial. West retired and moved to Florida, where he spent the next year teaching high school in Broward County.
It was while speaking at a local Republican Party event that West caught the attention of Florida political consultant Donna Brosemer, whose son had served in the military in Iraq.
After the 2006 GOP debacle, Brosemer — who calls West an “inspirational” and “compelling” candidate — got in touch with West by e-mail. By then, he was working as a civilian adviser to the Afghan army (he’d “kind of got the itch” for another taste of military life, he explains).
Brosemer convinced West he “had what it takes to make a run at Congress,” and became his campaign manager after he agreed to run.
So far, West says, the campaign has gotten “an incredible response” from the district that stretches along the Atlantic coast north of Miami.
“It’s not just with conservative Republicans, it’s everybody, all across the district,” West says. “People are hungry for someone who gets back to the basic conservative message.”
AFTER HIS 51 percent win in the previously Republican district two years ago, Klein has accumulated a liberal record, scoring a zero rating in 2007 from the American Conservative Union.
Klein may also be vulnerable, Brosemer says, because voters in the district overwhelmingly favored Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the Democratic primary.
About 12 percent of district’s voters are Jewish, and many of those voters have responded warmly to the tough-on-terrorism message from West, who is staunchly pro-Israel.
“What we cannot lose our focus on is the enemy we need to be pursuing,” West says. “We have to be able to identify the enemy, the radical Islamic ideology.”
Many of the district’s Jewish voters are “uncomfortable” with Obama, Brosemer says. While liberals might interpret that discomfort as racism, such an accusation can hardly be made against West, who is black.
Last month, after the Politico reported that Republicans were “heading into the 2008 election without a single minority candidate with a plausible chance of winning a campaign for the House, the Senate, or governor,” West replied in a Human Events column, “That came as a particular surprise to me, since I am a conservative black Republican running for Congress in FL 22, with a good chance of winning.”
WEST, WHO DISMISSES Obama as “an empty suit,” normally doesn’t raise the race issue himself, preferring instead to emphasize what he calls “American issues” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Riding the strength of that message, West says he’s not intimidated by the Democrat’s money advantage. “We don’t need to match Ron Klein dollar for dollar,” he says. “There’s a difference between being a fundraiser and being a leader.”
Reflecting on his own experience of being pushed out of the Army for doing what he felt necessary to protect his troops, West touches on the theme of character that is central to his campaign.
“In life, you’re going to get knocked down,” he says. “The measure of someone’s character is what you do after you’ve been knocked down.”
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