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South Florida Race Showcases Two Sides of Allen West

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Murphy shows up a little late to his events, but for supporters, it's always worth the wait. This is the man who, they believe, will unseat West. And that makes all the difference.

"I can't stand West," said 83-year-old Francis Cain at a meet-and-greet for Murphy last week. "Because he says really stupid things."

In interviews with almost two dozen Murphy supporters, the deep and abiding distaste for West and dissatisfaction with his performance in Congress was palpable. The force of their fury - and their dollars - is part of the reason why this contest is competitive.

"This is a very visceral race," explained Rachelle Litt, a pharmacist. Because of West, she said, but also "because of the women's issues, what's at stake for us - everyone who has mothers and daughters."

Both women were at a recent Murphy meet-and-greet in Palm Beach Gardens hosted in a supporter's house. The home sat in a gated community within a gated community.

Many of the 60 or so people milling about, munching on snacks, hadn't met Murphy before. The candidate walked up to each individual and introduced himself.

Murphy, who listens attentively, leaning forward, has an aw-shucks kind of charm to him. He seemed to hit it off best with senior voters, who almost always began by asking his age.

Murphy often talks about his business experience. After the BP oil spill, he helped lead a company that skimmed oil from the Gulf of Mexico. The company was an affiliate of his family's huge and successful construction business.

After greeting guests, Murphy gave a 10-minute speech. He talked about his résumé - certified public accountant, businessman - and contrasted his views with those of West, especially on Medicare, Social Security and abortion. There were lots of common Democratic talking points. But before Murphy touched on any issues, he made the case that he would win this race in Florida's newly configured 18th district, the majority of which is currently represented by Rep. Tom Rooney (R).

"Get that notion out of your head that it's a Republican seat. We have the numbers to win, it's just about getting people out to vote," he said. Obama would have won the district, adjusted in redistricting, by about 3 points in 2008, though he might not win it this November.

"We have 77 days to go to get my name ID up. Allen West's name ID is about 30 or 40 percent higher than mine," Murphy explained, referring to the percentage of people in the district who know who each candidate is.

Strategically, Murphy aides believe a victory will come from boosting his name ID as well as telling voters about West's more colorful quotes and controversial votes, such as his support for Wisconsin GOP Rep. Paul Ryan's budget. The path to a win presupposes Obama is within a reasonable range of victory in the district, even if he doesn't win it. A strong Romney in the Sunshine State would almost certainly mean West is re-elected.

Murphy has been up with television ads in the district since July 14 and will stay on air through the election. In his stump speech and on TV, Murphy portrays West as uncompromising and thus an essential part of why Washington is so broken. He uses West's own words against him.

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