Not unlike most, if not all, Washington-bound politicians who paint themselves as change-agents ready to rock Capitol Hill, Rep. Allen West (R-FL) is getting educated. Observers have watched West closely in recent weeks, gravitating to his magnetic and highly-charged penchant for throwing sound bombs. Others, particularly many Democratic strategists in search of a worthy opponent to take him out in the next election cycle, curiously eye Florida’s 22nd Congressional district for any signs of electoral bellwether. Where South Florida blows in 2012 could determine the outcome of power balance in D.C. Hence, West’s district is fast becoming one of the hotter hot-spots that could determine who maintains or captures control of the House of Representatives next November.
This partly explains the reason Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) initially took swipe at state fam, albeit gently, in well-timed comments in July. “[T]he gentleman from Florida, who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive of this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries,” blasted Wasserman-Schultz on the House floor. “[U]nbelievable for a member from South Florida.”
Note the emphasis on South Florida. As DNC Chair, Wasserman-Schultz is in a position to determine what districts, especially in Florida, are up for grabs. Gallup’s recently released survey of voters for the 2012 Congressional elections gives Dems renewed enthusiasm, with a decent edge over Republicans in the House: 51% to 44%. “However, the Democratic advantage is not as large as those they enjoyed in the 2006 and 2008 congressional election cycles,” observed Gallup’s Lydia Saad. “[E]ach of which produced a Democratic majority in Congress.” Hence, the need to put pressure on West.
Political gossip columns were stunned by the level of animus West threw back at Wasserman-Schultz in the e-mail shot heard around Capitol Hill. “You are the most vile, unprofessional, and despicable member of the US House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up,” was a seemingly rabid West on steroids.
The chattering class assumed West was having an out-of-body experience spurred by failure to take undisclosed Prozac that day. Closer analysis begs to differ, however. On one level, it’s classic West. But, another level poses the argument that West is currently engaged in very shrewd political maneuvering in an effort to keep a solid grip on his seat.
It’s a matter of the “tea party” firebrand attempting to manage the desire to keep his conservative mad hatter core with him since campaign contributions and canvassing troops on the ground will need to come from somewhere, and the unavoidable need to fulfill his duties as a federal legislator.
At some point, West realized that he’s got to be the latter first. His district, perhaps re-assessing who they voted for, would agree – particularly in low-key, retiree-dominated South Florida where nearly a quarter of the population is 65 years or older. Throwing balls of rhetorical fire all over cable TV is not cutting it for folks back home in the district who want bacon and stability. So lately, if you noticed, West had moderated his approach, joining and actively tolerating his Congressional Black Caucus colleagues (at least as much as they’d let him) by directly addressing issues like unemployment and the mortgage crisis.
“One of the things that I think conservatives have a problem with is what I call incrementalism,” was West before a recent crowd of college students at the Young America’s Foundation conference. “We believe that when we run a marathon and we start at mile zero, we’re automatically supposed to be at 26.2, but I tell you there are miles in between. . . . What are those incremental steps that get us there?”
Folks familiar with vinegary West, all guns blazing, found themselves exploding on the spot. But, longtime Washington insiders know better. Ultimately, West’s first term was peppered with unpredictable episodes of reason. He likes the job, has caught a bit of Potomac fever and is eager to come back next session. Despite the throwback flattop and occasional wartime outburst, he’s far from being “postal.”
Obviously, his raucous conservative brethren are not feeling the soft approach, wondering who is this “new West” they didn’t help elect. West, digging Capitol Hill lifestyle and itching for another term, got worried. Using Wasserman-Schultz for target practice is an easy way to restore tea party street cred.