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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.

The newly configured 22nd district, adjusted during redistricting, runs along the east coast of Florida from Ft. Lauderdale to West Palm Beach. Taking in parts of Broward and Palm Beach Counties, it is indisputably Democratic territory that could easily give President Barack Obama more than a 10-point margin over Mitt Romney in November. It's so Democratic, in fact, that GOP Rep. Allen West, who currently represents the district, decided to seek re-election in a seat to the north of here with a more even partisan split.

West's move should have made Frankel, a former state legislator, a shoo-in for the seat. Frankel is a solid Democrat with legislative and executive experience whose fundraising quarters since she began her bid in March 2011 have been very impressive. In late July, she had $949,000 in the bank. But Hasner, coming off a failed bid for the GOP nomination for Senate, jumped in the race earlier this year. It was originally seen as something of a lark, a graceful exit to a statewide campaign that never took off.

Hasner, however, has been campaigning relentlessly, had more than a million dollars in cash on hand in late July and has powerful outside groups backing his bid. And now, both Democrats and Republicans in Florida view this race differently than they used to: as a true contest in which either candidate could win.

The 'Romney-Ryan-Hasner Budget'

Last week, in a stuffy meeting room in Plantation, a city of 87,000 that includes the district's southwestern terminus, Mitchell Ceasar is fired up.

"Democrats in the past were too slow to respond to attacks, too timid," says Ceasar, chairman of the Broward County Democratic Party. A lawn sign for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz leans against the wall behind him. "In this Democratic nominee, I can assure you, you have a fighter for day one, our next Congresswoman, Lois Frankel!"

The crowd of about 150 die-hard Democrats rises to their feet and gives her a loud cheer. "Lo-is, Lo-is, Lo-is," some people begin to chant.

In her underwhelming stump speech to the Broward Democratic Executive Committee, Frankel introduces herself, speaks briefly about her record and then launches into an attack on what she calls the "Romney-Ryan-Hasner budget." She competently hits all the standard Democratic talking points about the budget "ending Medicare as we know it" while giving "tax cuts to the very rich and the corporations that send jobs overseas."

Frankel, who is also Jewish, spends a chunk of time talking about women's health - she is in favor of abortion rights, Hasner is opposed. But the distillation of her speech is this: She's a solid liberal Democrat.

That message is probably enough to easily get her within a few, maybe one or two, points of victory, but not all the way to the 113th Congress.

Frankel has been in politics in this area long enough to have a reputation. She's been around so long, in fact, that her first legislative aide at the statehouse was Hasner's mother, a Democrat. To Frankel's allies, she was a strong voice for liberal policies in the state Legislature who became a business-friendly tough-as-nails urban mayor who helped turn West Palm Beach around. To her detractors, her less-than-warm personality overwhelms all her other attributes.

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