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South Florida Race Tests Partisanship Against Personality

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Adam Hasner, the Republican candidate in Florida's 22nd district, greets senior citizens at the Mae Volen Senior Center in Boca Raton. Click to view a slideshow of Hasner and his Democratic opponent, Lois Frankel.

BOCA RATON, Fla. - Conservative Republican Adam Hasner and his wife are the youngest people in the room by at least 25 years. Late-morning light streams into the high-ceilinged cafeteria as Hasner takes the bingo microphone to introduce himself to the crowd.

"It's so great to be back here at the Mae Volen Center," he says to the 30 or so senior citizens slowly eating their Friday lunches from white plastic trays. A few look up at him, but most are very focused on their food.

"I'm a candidate for the United States House of Representatives in district 22," Hasner says.

He and his wife, Jillian, begin to work the room. Hasner, the 42-year-old former state Majority Leader, leans over to shake hands with seniors and asks their names and where they are from. An old woman tells him she's from New York City.

"I was born in Brooklyn," he tells her. Hasner, who is Jewish, stands up to his full height and yells, "Who's from Brooklyn?!"

"Brooklyn!" he bellows, like a latter-day Beastie Boy.

The crowd of senior citizens, some in their 90s, responds with a surprisingly resonant cheer. "Yay, Brooklyn," one old lady yells from a few tables away, her voice quavering. She begins to clap.

Another old woman replies to his borough invocation with one word: "Lundy's," a reference to a once-famous restaurant there.

"Lundy's! They had the best little rolls!" Hasner says with ebullience. He draws smiles from everyone who can hear him.

To know Adam Hasner is to like him. He's warm, he laughs easily and he charms, but not in the way of a slick, longtime politician - even though that's what he is. On the campaign trail, Hasner always seems more interested in the person he's talking to than himself. He appears knowledgeable on a huge variety of political issues and speaks intelligently about whatever is most important to each voter, from the state of Israel to the state of Florida State University's sports teams. He manages to connect with just about everyone he meets, even intensely partisan Democrats.

Indeed, if every voter could meet Hasner and his Democratic opponent, former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, who exudes a rough-hewn toughness in place of charm, he would easily win. But if every voter just saw each candidates' positions on the issues, Frankel would walk away with the race.

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