Is Allen West in trouble? Polls send mixed signals, candidate lashes out

Congressman Allen West speaks to a crowd at the 2011 Palm Beach County Tax Day Tea Party on April 16, 2011 at Sanborn Square in Boca Raton,  Florida.   Another prominent speaker included billionaire Donald Trump.  (Photo by John W. Adkisson/Getty Images)

Congressman Allen West speaks to a crowd at the 2011 Palm Beach County Tax Day Tea Party on April 16, 2011 at Sanborn Square in Boca Raton, Florida. Another prominent speaker included billionaire Donald Trump. (Photo by John W. Adkisson/Getty Images)

Is Tea Party Rep. Allen West’s House seat in jeopardy? It depends on which polls you believe.

Two Democratic leaning polls show him losing to his challenger. One internal GOP poll shows him comfortably ahead. And Allen West is running ads showing his opponent’s mugshot from a decade ago. Depending on who you believe, those are either signs of a desperate campaign, or just the rough and tumble of politics in 2012.

West’s campaign says don’t believe the hype when it comes to the polls.

They dismiss two polls showing first-time candidate Patrick Murphy leading the incumbent tea party congressman, one by 9 points, and a Kimball Consulting poll showing Murphy up by 4 points, saying the first poll, by the Garin/Hart/Yang polling firm, was done at the behest of the Democratic super-PAC the House Majority PAC. And they cite their own internal poll that they say shows their candidate up by 11 points.

Erin Moffet, communications director for the Patrick Murphy campaign, stood by the validity of the polls, telling theGrio: “The latest poll was conducted by a highly respectable firm and the House Majority PAC, who funded the poll, invested additional money in the race due to their confidence in these findings. Furthermore, this poll was heavily weighted towards Republican respondents.  But if you prefer an independent validation, the poll released yesterday by Kimball was conducted by a Republican pollster.  Both polls found Patrick Murphy leading Allen West and both polls found President Obama leading by seven points in the district, further attesting to the reliability of these two polls.”

The West campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, for a candidate who projects total confidence on the stump, and in response to negative polling, West appears to be running like a man with a real challenger.

West is among the top ten targets of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the House Majority PAC. His challenger recently sent out a press release announcing he raised more than $1 million during the last quarter to try and defeat West in the 18th congressional district, which West switched to after the Census and redistricting made his old District less Republican.

West’s campaign has lashed out at Murphy, accusing his campaign of “racist smears” (including for an ad financed by a super-PAC funded by Murphy’s father, which showed West punching an elderly white woman), and releasing a campaign ad featuring Murphy’s mugshot from a 2003 arrest for what the West campaign calls a “drunken brawl” outside a nightclub. Murphy was a 19-year-old college student at the time.

The Murphy camp has responded by reminding voters of West’s discharge from the U.S. Army that same year, amid accusations he put a pistol to the head of an Iraqi policeman he accused of threatening his life, and pulling the trigger, in a mock execution.

“The only reason he escaped prosecution was that he cut a deal to retire,” Murphy campaign manager Anthony Kusich said in a fundraising email in response to the ad.

West has consistently been one of the most prolific fundraisers among House Republicans. His campaign has raised more than $10 million this cycle, but has spent more than $7 million, meaning he has less of a cash advantage over the more frugal Murphy campaign than it might appear — though the current gap remains significant, at just over $3 million cash on hand for West, versus just over $800,000 for Murphy. It remains to be seen whether Republican super-PACs will swoop in to help West in the closing weeks of the campaign. On the Democratic side, the super PAC House Majority PAC has kicked in a $1 million ad by targeting West for his votes on issues related to women’s health.

West, one of the most popular figures in the tea party, launched a statewide petition to get on the ballot for re-election in the 18th District, though he actually lives in the Florida District held by Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who West famously lashed out at as “vile, despicable” and “not a lady” in an email rant last July.

Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport