The national wave of discontent with the Democratic-controlled Congress swept through South Florida on Tuesday, costing Ron Klein his congressional seat and sending Republican Allen West to Congress, where he's likely to get a quick place on the national stage.
In the end, it wasn't even close. At 11 p.m., challenger West was well ahead of the Democratic incumbent. Just over 20 minutes later, West declared victory.
The outcome was obvious much earlier. By 9:45, the West campaign party was so packed that people spilled out into the hallways and lobby at the Boca Raton Marriott. The mood was glum at Klein's party, where most of the crowd left early.
West was propelled by a charismatic speaking style, a promise to shatter the way Washington works, and a skillful ability to bridge the gap between the Republican Party establishment, whose leaders embraced him, and tea party activists, who revered him.
Klein was washed out of office by the same kind of political wave that sent him to Congress four years ago. In 2006, voters were disenchanted with the Republican Congress and then- President George W. Bush. In 2010, it's the Democratic Congress and President Barack Obama.
Fabio Azevedo, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, voted for Obama in 2008. He voted for West on Tuesday because of the candidate's background and, he said, because it's "time for a change. I'm just looking for a change. Everybody's looking for change."
Charlotte Dilks, a Delray Beach Democrat, said she considers Klein far better qualified than West and doesn't like the way the election has turned into a referendum on a president who she says has "done so much."
"Klein is the one with experience, and I trust Klein," she said.
The district is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans and is home to one of the highest concentrations of independent/no party voters in the state. It takes in some of the most affluent communities along the coast in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Obama won the district with 52 percent of the vote in 2008.
The district was never overwhelmingly supportive of Klein. He won in 2006 with just 50.9 percent of the vote, one of the smallest margins in the nation. And West captured 45.3 percent of the vote in 2008, even though his campaign was sorely underfunded and he spent much of the campaign season working as a military contractor in Afghanistan.
Both candidates have had plenty of money — more than $9 million raised and spent, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — something that's vital in a district in which two of five voters live in the expensive Miami-Fort Lauderdale television market.
West, 49, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, doesn't mince words, and as one of the only black Republicans in Congress he'll have an outsized platform for his views. He's a fire-breathing conservative who peppers his speeches with attention-grabbing rhetoric. He's called on supporters to "grab their muskets" and "fix your bayonets," railed against "coexist" bumper stickers, and called Klein a "pathetic liberal" and a "mama's boy" for frequently siding with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Klein, 53, a lawyer and career politician, is as dry a speaker as West is fiery. His pitch to voters during the campaign was that he was closer to the concerns of the fiscally conservative, socially liberal voters of the 22nd District. Virtually all his advertising was aimed at driving up West's negatives by depicting him as a dangerous apostle of the radical right and, personally, a deadbeat. Klein hammered West over a tax lean an unpaid assessments to his homeowners association.
In other races:
U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R- Tequesta, was on his way to a second term, leading Democrat Jim Horn, of Palm City, an entrepreneur and consultant.
State Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, defeated no party affiliation hopeful Roderick D. Vereen, of Miami. The seat was vacated by U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, so he could run for U.S. Senate.
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D- Boca Raton, defeated Republican Joe Budd, a financial adviser from Palm Beach County. Deutch won a special election in April to fill the seat left vacant when former U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler resigned to take over a center devoted to Middle East peace.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, won a fourth term in Congress, defeating three challengers, Stanley Blumenthal, of Sunrise, a no party affiliation candidate and self-described "independent socialist;" Republican Karen Harrington, owner of Rickey's Restaurant and Lounge; and Bob Kunst, of Miami Beach, a perennial candidate, former gay rights activist and current activist on behalf of Israel.
U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D- Miramar, won a 10th term. He was leading Republican Bernard Sansaricq, of Pembroke Pines, who was president of the Haitian Senate in 1994.
Copyright © 2010, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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