Allen West: How violent rhetoric may topple a Tea Party favorite

OPINION - Allen West has become known for over-the-top, even violent, rhetoric. Now, his caustic statements, and a change in his district, could endanger his congressional future...

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Allen West has become known for over-the-top, even violent, rhetoric. Now, his caustic statements, and a change in his district, could endanger his congressional future.

West’s latest outburst: that President Barack Obama will lose the 2012 election in a brutal bloodbath, was shocking to some. But it’s pretty standard fare for the Florida Congressman, who called on his supporters to “gather their muskets” and go to Washington to throw the “tyrant” Obama out of office.

West has become known for over-the-top rhetoric. The Tea Party Republican, who once called himself a modern day Harriet Tubman leading African-American voters away from the Democratic Party “plantation,” has raised eyebrows by calling on his supporters to “gather their muskets” and march on Capitol Hill, for affiliating with biker gang that doesn’t allow black members, and for vowing to “bring the left to its knees.”

And West’s opponents are using his rhetoric to raise cash. Murphy reported taking in $1.4 million in 2011, including releasing a video highlighting what the campaign called West’s radical and offensive statements from the past year. Frankel has raised a similar amount, though neither campaign has matched West’s prodigious fundraising. West has raised more than $4 million so far for his re-election bid, more than four times either of his rivals.

But behind the overheated rhetoric there’s a stark reality: West is one of the country’s most endangered members of congress.

No “brutal bloodbath” is anticipated, but when Florida redistricting is completed and the 2012 election rolls around West faces the prospect of being a one-term congressman.

The main problem for West: redistricting. Florida voters in 2010 approved two “fair districts” amendments that severely curtail political gerrymandering in the state. As a result, West, who lives in Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Palm Beach district (he denounced his congresswoman last year on the House floor as vile, despicable and not a lady…”) but who ran for office in an adjacent, more Republican-friendly one in 2010, will face a tougher road in 2012.

“West has problems on two fronts,” says Steve Schale, a veteran Democratic consultant who ran the Barack Obama Florida campaign in 2008. “First, he is an ideologue representing a swing seat, which regardless of party, will eventually cause you to wear out your welcome — just ask Allan Grayson. Secondly, thanks to the combination of fair districts and the growth trends in South Florida, he will have no choice but to run for re-election in a district that is at worst a likely Democratic seat.”

Currently, there are two Democrats vying for that seat: former Fort Lauderdale Mayor Lois Frankel and businessman Patrick Murphy. If redistricting maps are drawn more compactly, either one will likely gain an advantage as Florida’s 22nd District is redrawn more compactly in Democrat-heavy Palm Beach.
It’s not just redistricting that has made West vulnerable. His vote to raise the debt ceiling after tea party freshmen vowed not to, enraged his Tea Party base. Meanwhile, his vote for Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare voucher plan upset seniors, who make up a significant share of his district’s population, and made him a prime target of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

For all of those reasons, West is considered one of the 12 most vulnerable freshmen lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

West first ran for the District 22 seat in 2008, losing to Democrat Ron Klein 45 percent to 54 percent. He was more successful in the swing district in 2010, sweeping in with a Republican wave, and beating Klein by a nearly identical margin to his 2008 loss — only with much lower overall turnout than the presidential year. Of course, during the 2010 campaign, West also called on his supporters to make Klein scared to come out of his house.

That kind of talk may have been popular with Tea Partiers two years ago, but as the tea party movement has worn out its welcome with the American people, West’s rhetoric has begun to look even more out of place.

Perhaps for that reason, West last year petitioned statewide to get on the ballot for 2012.

Once his district’s makeup is known, West will have to answer to voters for his rhetoric, along with his votes. Ironically, redistricting changes could in theory, mean West is making his case against his nemesis, Wasserman Shultz.

Only in Florida.