MARTIN COUNTY — U.S. Rep. Allen West told about 90 largely supportive Palm City voters Tuesday that locally prioritized federal projects — such as the St. Lucie Inlet dredging — aren't going to matter if Washington officials don't address a mounting deficit.
Later Tuesday evening, a Jensen Beach crowd of 100 with more than 15 protesters greeted the congressman with mixed support, cheers and jeers.
The conservative tea party icon also got in shots at Democrats and President Obama, who spoke Tuesday at Florida Atlantic University. West said Obama was "scared" to have a discussion with him. He later said "he's heard" up to 80 U.S. House Democrats are Communist Party members, but wouldn't name names.
At the first of two campaign town-hall events in Martin County on Tuesday, the Plantation Republican told a New Hope Fellowship Church crowd it'd be disingenuous to pretend he knows everything about the area, but said he supports local projects like inlet dredging. But he contended that big national issues, such as gas prices, turn out to be the most important locally.
"I understand everything about the (St. Lucie) Inlet. I already represent 70 to 75 miles of coastline. Plenty of inlets, plenty of ports. I got it," West said. "I understand about the (St. Lucie) river situation. I understand about (Lake) Okeechobee. But it won't mean a hill of beans if the United States of America goes from $15.6 trillion in debt to $26 trillion in debt."
West then addressed a riled-up crowd of 100 at the Jensen Beach Community Center in his bid for a St. Lucie-Martin-northern Palm Beach congressional district. Occupy Martin County, an anti-tea party group named Credo Super PAC and another anti-West group named Stand Up Florida picketed outside, and shouted out questions and remarks during the event. Supporters responded out loud to naysayers' remarks about divisive topics, from women's abortion rights to proposed Medicare cost-cutting measures.
West and Democrat Patrick Murphy — both fundraisers in the millions — left Broward County to run for the seat. Martin County Sheriff Robert Crowder will take on West in a GOP primary as the local candidate, and Democrats Jim Horn of Palm City and Jerry Buechler of Port St. Lucie also are in the running.
Addressing the debt is overwhelmingly important, Crowder said, but there are huge impacts on safety and the economy when the inlet isn't dredged and local projects go unaddressed by the feds.
"We can't be expanding the debt, but you're going to have to have a balance," Crowder said.
West reiterated many conservative stances he recited last week in front of St. Lucie County voters — against leeway for food stamp users, pro-domestic drilling and pro-tax cuts for high earners, for example. He also berated Obama, who spoke in Boca Raton to FAU students about ending millionaire tax breaks.
"I really wish that, standing here before you, was Allen West and President Obama," West said. "We could have a simple discussion. But that ain't ever gonna happen."
"Why not?" an audience member asked.
"Cuz he was too scared!" West responded in a mocking voice.
West said he's met the president once very briefly at a White House holiday party.
Murphy, who just announced his campaign will be headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, said the West statement is just more grandstanding.
"The bottom line is, Allen West is trying to make it in the press with comments that don't even make sense," Murphy said. "He's trying to make headlines, get a rise out of people and not get anything done."