The general election has already arrived for outspoken tea party favorite freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), who is likely to face fiery former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel (D) wherever his district lines end up being drawn.
A West-Frankel race is likely to be one with high-octane rhetoric that will attract interest — and cash — from across the nation.
“It will be exciting. It will be interesting to watch. It will expensive,” Palm Beach County Republican Party Chairman Sid Dinerstein told Roll Call. “There will be a lot of mud that will be slung.”
West has become a national figure in his first six months in office with myriad media appearances. He was a fundraising juggernaut in his race last cycle for the 22nd district, raking in more than $6.5 million. In the first quarter of this year, the former Army officer raised nearly $500,000.
And Frankel managed to raise $255,000 in just three weeks in March. (She declared her candidacy March 21.)
Although Florida’s redistricting process is unlikely to be complete until the middle of 2012, Frankel said she will challenge West in whichever district he runs.
“It absolutely is a race to watch,” said Screven Watson, a longtime Florida Democratic strategist.
Frankel has hired Brian Smoot of 4C Partners as her general consultant and Mike Reid, who worked for the campaign of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), as her finance director. Frankel campaign aides said she can win substantial margins of the critical independent and senior voters, who swung to the GOP in 2010, in a general election.
The fact that Frankel is choosing to run against a Member and not just in a district makes the race unusual. National Democrats have their eyes on a number of races in the state, especially districts such as the 22nd that are held by a Republican but were won by President Barack Obama in 2008. Florida is gaining two seats through reapportionment. Watson, former executive director of the state Democratic Party, said some potential Democratic candidates in the Sunshine State are wary to take on an incumbent before they have any idea what the lines of the district will be.
Watson added it was especially difficult in regions of Florida with big population growth, where the new seats are likely to be placed. “If you’re a potential challenger in that area, man it’s tough to get your arms around what your district is going to look like,” he said.
Frankel, seen as forceful, no-nonsense and straightforward by her supporters and as abrasive and rude by her opponents, is well-known and favored to beat businessman Patrick Murphy in a Democratic primary.
Murphy, 28, recently left the Republican Party to become a Democrat. He also wants to run against West, regardless of redistricting, and has tailored his fundraising pitches against the freshman’s brief tenure in Congress. That’s probably one reason he raised $350,000 in the first three weeks of his campaign.
The primary’s outcome is dependent on how the lines are drawn. Murphy lives in Broward County, and Frankel would likely beat him in a district that included her home turf of West Palm Beach, where she served two terms as mayor.
While Murphy’s own fundraising haul gives state Democrats reason to view him as capable, they are waiting on the map and, naturally, would prefer to avoid a primary.
Watch for the Democratic nominee to echo the national party’s criticism of West’s vote for House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) Medicare overhaul. Democrats hope the message will influence the district’s many senior citizens.
Frankel will also use West’s high profile against him. “Mr. West is focusing on his career as a talk-show media star. And, at some point, that gets very old,” Frankel said in an interview.
West told Roll Call last month that he wasn’t concerned about his re-election, promising to keep working hard for his constituents even if redistricting makes his district more Democratic.
“If they think that we’ve done a good job up here these two years, they’ll send me back,” he said.
West recently told the Miami Herald that he isn’t “vulnerable” as much as he’s a target. “I’m a target because the Democrats are not used to anyone who will stand up and confront them,” he said.
Frankel, speaking recently with Roll Call after finishing fundraising calls for the day, said her strategy was simple: raise a lot of cash and highlight what she said is West’s “indefensible” record in Congress. As for the prospect of an intense race, she compared politics to football.
“They throw you to the ground, you get up and then you throw them to the ground,” she said. “They can throw me to the ground, but I promise you, I will always be getting up and going for the touchdown.”
The local GOP’s Dinerstein isn’t worried that West is in jeopardy: “At the end of the day, it won’t be close because Lois can’t get any crossover vote and Allen is a rock star.”
Steve Peoples contributed to this report.