BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Cheers went up throughout the night from hundreds of Republicans gathered here in the Marriott hotel ballroom as good news came in from throughout Florida and across the country.
Florida Republicans had lots to cheer about: Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio sailed to an easy win in the Senate race, Sandy Adams beat Suzanne Kosmas in the 24th District, Steve Southerland easily defeated Allen Boyd in the 2nd District and -- a result that especially caused the crowd to whoop with glee -- Dan Webster crushed the obnoxious Alan Grayson in the 8th District.
Most of all, the crowd cheered every time the TV showed a lead for the man whose triumph they came to celebrate: Retired Army Lt. Col. Allen West. Results were slow coming in and it was past 11 p.m. before the newly elected congressman took the stage to give his victory speech, and used it to issue a challenge.
"The president said not too long ago, that this [election] was about punishing his enemies. He also talked about how this would be about going into hand-to-hand combat. Well, I got to tell you something: If you want to pick a fight with a U.S. Army paratrooper, bring it on."
West's toughness is indisputable. In 2003, while serving with the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq's Sunni Triangle, West conducted a gunpoint interrogation of a prisoner suspected of complicity in a terror plot against West's unit. The prisoner confessed and the plot was foiled. However, Army brass disapproved of West's methods and he was relieved of command. In a June 2008 interview, West said he had no regrets: "As a commander, your moral responsibility is to take care of your troops."
West displayed similar toughness as a candidate. His 2008 campaign against Democrat Rep. Ron Klein was largely ignored by the National Republican Congressional Committee, but West resolved to try again and -- with support of the Tea Party movement that emerged in early 2009 -- became one of the NRCC's superstars in this cycle, raising more than $5 million for his rematch with Klein.
Klein and the Democrats tried to use West's fiery Tea Party speeches against him in TV ads. When that didn't work, they accused him of complicity in criminal activity by a motorcycle gang, after West attended a biker rally and contributed to a biker magazine. "Allen West is a monthly contributor to Wheels on the Road, a monthly motorcycle print and online magazine that promotes the Outlaws motorcycle gang and denigrates women," the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a press release timed to coincide with a TV news segment by a local NBC affiliate.
West never backed down or apologized, and his tough stance inspired admiration from conservatives who had grown tired of seeing Republican run away from fights. In this year of the Tea Party uprising, other grassroots heroes came up short in hard-fought elections -- including Marine Corps Reserve officer Sean Bielat, who took on Barney Frank -- but West won, a victory that he insisted Tuesday night was not his alone.
"It is not, and never shall be, about me," he told the cheering crowd here. "I go to Washington, D.C., to be your representative. I go to Washington, D.C., to be your voice… to protect your life, to protect your liberty, to protect your pursuit of happiness.… It is not my office. It is your office."