Irish-American takes on Tea Party extremist
Florida’s congressional election seen as a microcosm of the Romney-Obama battle, writes LARA MARLOWEin Fort Pierce Florida
TO HIS SUPPORTERS in the Tea Party, Lt Col Allen West (51) is a decorated war hero and intrepid lawmaker who dares to express politically incorrect views. But to Democrats, in particular Patrick Murphy (29), West’s opponent in the race for Florida’s 18th Congressional district, West is an extremist who left the US army under a cloud and regularly embarrasses constituents with inflammatory rhetoric.
Considered a toss-up, the race is seen as a microcosm of the Obama-Romney battle, set in the swing district of the biggest swing state. “There’s one major difference,” notes Murphy. “Allen West is more extreme than Mitt Romney, and I am more conservative than President Obama.”
The White House has taken an interest, dispatching former president Bill Clinton once and vice-president Joe Biden twice to bolster Murphy. A political novice running for the first time, he is an executive in an environmental company that helped clean up the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
West, who is African-American, is a Tea Party star elected in the 2010 mid-term election with the backing of Sarah Palin; she said West ought to be this year’s Republican vice-presidential nominee. He did not reply to requests for an interview.
It would take a book to catalogue West’s outrageous statements, but he is perhaps best known for asserting, at a town hall meeting in Palm City earlier this year, that “there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party that are members of the Communist Party”.
West has called Obama “probably the dumbest person walking around in America” and said: “When I see anyone with an Obama 2012 bumper sticker, I recognise them as a threat to the gene pool.”
He sent a letter to colleagues denouncing Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic national committee, as “the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the US House of Representatives”. At a Republican dinner in Palm Beach, he told liberal leaders to “get the hell out of America”.
Before a conservative women’s group in Boca Raton, West denounced “all of these women that have been neutering American men and bringing us to the point of this incredible weakness”. A staunch foe of abortion, West voted to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and co-sponsored a “personhood” amendment, as well as draft legislation on “forcible rape” with Representatives Todd Akin (of “legitimate rape” fame) and vice- presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
West says Muslims who engage in terrorism “are doing exactly what the Koran says”. He has denounced the Obama administration for failing to “secure western civilisation” from Islam. In the state with the highest number of retired residents, he describes the social security old-age pension system as “a form of modern, 21st-century slavery”.
The contest between West and Murphy has been exceptionally expensive and dirty. West has raised more than $14.7 million (€11.3 million) from conservatives across the country – the record for a sitting congressman this year. One of only two African-American Republicans in the House, West is often cited by Tea Partiers as proof they’re not racist.
I recently received an email from a Washington-based “superpac” called Black America’s Political Action Committee, addressed to “Dear Patriot” and asking for a contribution to defend West against “liberal Democrats” who “believe if they can destroy a good man like Allen West, they can prevent other black conservatives from stepping forward and running for office”.
Murphy has raised more than $3.2 million (€2.46 million), much of it from his family, who own a construction business. Funds are channelled through the candidates’ superpacs, “American Sunrise” for Murphy, “Treasure Coast Jobs Coalition” for West.
“I hate it. It’s gross. A huge step backwards for our country,” Murphy says of the campaign- financing system fostered by the 2010 Supreme Court citizens united ruling.
Murphy’s family emigrated from Co Cork in the 19th century. When Murphy’s father, Thomas Patrick, sold his first construction company in the 1980s, he wanted to help his father, also called Thomas Patrick, to buy a home in Ireland. The grandfather bought three racehorses in two months, and had to be sent a second instalment to purchase a house in Drogheda.
Both candidates have used incidents that occurred nine years ago to tarnish the other’s reputation. West broadcasts an attack ad showing Murphy’s police write-up for drunk and disorderly conduct in a Miami bar that he’d entered with a fake driver’s licence, along with his mugshot.
Murphy has called it “the biggest mistake of my life”. While Murphy was drinking and fighting, West’s ad points out, the then army officer was preparing for deployment to Iraq.
In the town of Taji, West interrogated an Iraqi policeman suspected of involvement in a plot to attack his unit. West held a pistol near the Iraqi’s head and fired at least one shot. West escaped court martial, but was fined $5,000 for assault and violating the code of military justice. He retired soon after.
Murphy’s campaign says West’s behaviour in Iraq is a more serious stain than a drunken brawl by a college student. We’ll learn what voters think on November 6th.