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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.

Like Democrats across the country, Frankel is expected to emphasize the budget blueprint authored by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (which Hasner supports), and its effect on Medicare, as well as women's health issues. And expect to see her use Hasner's own words against him. During his Senate campaign he tacked hard to the ideological right in an attempt to out-conservative the other candidates.

"Republicans don't need to be less partisan, Republicans need to be more principled," he often said on the Senate campaign trail.

Now, in an interview and on the House campaign trail, Hasner doesn't back away from his conservative values, but it's not what he emphasizes either.

Speaking to voters, he empathizes with their roiling dissatisfaction with Congress in a nonpartisan way. "Clearly Washington is broken and both parties are to blame," he tells an older woman sitting at the Kosher table in the senior center.

Going house-to-house on Saturday, he knocks on 75 doors, wins over some independent voters and hands out lots of campaign literature - that makes no mention of his party affiliation.

Hasner is expected to emphasize his likability, competence, intelligence and hard work.

Local Republicans are bullish on Hasner and give a window into how he'll knock Frankel.

"While his views are clear and conservative, he's never hostile. You don't come away insulted, even if you disagree," said Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Palm Beach Republican Party. "Lois prides herself on being the Don Rickles of politics," he said, referring to the infamously insulting comedian.

Interested Parties, Outside Money

If Hasner can make this a race about personalities, he's got a good shot. But if Frankel can burn in a message contrasting their positions on the big issues of day, it's hard to see how he pulls off a victory in this very Democratic bastion. A Democrat is simply a better fit for this district. Still, Hasner's religion will help him among Jewish voters, especially elderly ones. Hasner is the definite underdog here, but unlike in a lot of races, the underdog and his allies are very unlikely to be outspent.

Influential Republicans in Washington, D.C., have been watching this matchup closely. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), who endorsed Hasner earlier this year, has taken a particular interest in the race. Cantor is the only Jewish Republican in the House, something a GOP victory here would change.

"It's a very winnable race. It's a Democratic district, but one that we can win. Hasner is an attractive candidate," said Brad Dayspring, a senior adviser to the YG Action Fund, a super PAC formed by former Cantor aides. That group has reserved more than $400,000 in the Palm Beach media market to support Hasner.

And, Dayspring said, the YG Action Fund "anticipates being more heavily in this race as times goes on."

Back in Boca Raton, Elaine DiPietro is sitting at a table in the back of the big room at the Mae Volen Senior Center folding paper napkins. She tells Hasner that he has her vote. About 20 percent of the 22nd is Hasner's old state House seat. DiPietro remembers Hasner from his earlier campaigns.

"I like him. He's charming. That's all," she says later in a friendly staccato. Then she launches into a lengthy denunciation of Mitt Romney.

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