Battle for Congress

Allen West, Republicans hope, will help them win back one of those hotly-contested Congressional seats the GOP lost a year ago. West is a very interesting candidate– a warrior (former Lt. Colonel in the Army), an African-American, and a very strident conservative. He’s the kind of guy who, in blogs sent from Afghanistan, calls liberals “kids who never got picked to play”, and divides up humanity into three groups: “There are wolves, guard dogs, and sheep. Sheep always make the same incessantly annoying sound, kinda like our left wing liberal Americans.”
In other words– he’s a candidate not afraid to mix it up, and turn a vivid phrase. That may or may not be a good thing for the Republicans’ hopes of winning back District 22.
District 22 runs along the coast from mid-Broward into Palm Beach. John Kerry carried it in 2004, and West’s probable opponent, Cong. Ron Klein, carried it with 50.9% of the vote a year ago.
Klein beat Clay Shaw, who’d been in Congress for 26 years. A pretty moderate Republican, politically and in demeanor, too. The campaign ad that seemed to me to do Shaw in focussed on Iraq: “3 1/2 years…$300-billion spent…thousands of American lives lost… and still, Clay Shaw refuses to question George Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq.”
Allen West does question the war, in some ways. He says we probably shouldn’t have gone in when we did, probably shoul;d have focussed on the hunt for bin Laden. And he says, we’re trying too hard to fight a “humane, politically-correct war”, and ham-stringing the troops, in the process.
View those comments in light of West’s own departure from military service. In 2003, he was questioning an Iraqi policeman he thought knew about plans to ambush his troops. “I faked that I was going to shoot him”, West told me. “I fired over his head… after that, he gave names, he gave locations.” West says the info saved American lives. The Iraqi cop reportedly claims he gave no info of value.
In any case, that kind of behavior–which West terms “coloring outside the lines”– violates Army regs. Facing court-martial and a reported 11 year sentence, West plea-bargained, retiring from the Army with his pension intact, but paying a fine for lesser violations.
His campaign web site glosses over the episode (“When it was time to retire from more than 20 years of service in the US Army, Allen brought his wife and two young daughters to Broward County.”). But clearly, the episode says a lot about why West thinks the war effort is less than it should be, though he says the troop surge is helping some.
Should the U.S. use waterboarding and other interrogation techniques that some term torture? “I don’t want us telegraphing what we’re not going to do.”
And West feels we shouldn’t hesitate to chase terrorists across national borders, into– say– Pakistan. He says Alexander the Great had the right idea when his eliminated insurgents in Afghanistan, centuries ago: “He denied the enemy sanctuary. And he was finally able to corner the enemy in one specific place. He brought his army back together, and he defeated them. That’s what you have to do with this enemy.”
He’s also critical of the Administration’s attempts to make a clear case as to why we’re in Iraq and Afghanistan: “We have to get to the point where we’re putting out our message, our information, to fight against their (Sunnis and Shiites) propaganda. That’s the number-one thing we’re not doing very well.”
He charges Klein and other Congressional Democrats are giving aid and comfort to the enemy by talking of timetables.
Klein’s position on Iraq? “We’re in a civil war there. We need to find a strategic way of getting out. That doesn’t mean immediate withdrawal.”
It’s unclear just what it does mean. But it’s not hard to argue Klein’s studied vagueness may be more in sync with the moderate 22nd District than a candidate who can be portrayed as favoring “coloring outside the lines” as the best way to win the war on terror, not ruling out waterboarding or US forays into Pakistan, and characterizing those with concerns about such practices as liberals bleating like sheep.
The National Republican Congressional Committee sends me several e-mails a week, decrying Klein’s positions on nearly everything. He’s definitely a major target for a party anxious to make some gains (or at least limit losses) in next year’s Congressional elections.
West will be talking to the NRCC soon about helping his bid to unseat Klein with substantial money. He’ll need it– Klein raised $4-million plus when he ran against Shaw, and already has about $1.4 million in the bank (he’s one of the top 10 fundraisers in Congress, thus far).
It’ll be interesting to see whether the NRCC thinks this blunt warrior is a guy who can win, worth putting a lot of resources behind, or whether they decide his free-wheeling style is a lost cause in District 22.


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