It was perhaps the nastiest, most personal fight in the state this season, and clearly one of the most expensive.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, a Democrat, fought hard to stave off tea party favorite Republican Allen West during a brutal campaign in which each side attacked the other with personal insults, character assassinations, even alleged threats of personal violence.
But in the end Klein could not upend West’s massive war chest and the fickle mood of District 22 voters, who four years ago ousted long-term incumbent Republican Clay Shaw to vote in Klein. With 80 percent of the votes counted counties reporting, West led by 10 percent, assuring West’s victory in what the Center for Responsive Politics labeled the second most expensive house race in the country.
Klein had worked hard to portray West, an Iraq War veteran who often used martial rhetoric during his speeches, as a dangerous zealot. Campaign ads showed West calling himself a “right-wing extremist” in one speech and described fixing a bayonet to a gun as a metaphor for his political battles in another.
One national TV station obtained an email showing West had sympathetic feelings towards the Outlaws Motorcycle Club shortly before news broke that a group of West supporters in biker garb forced a West campaign staffer to leave not just a podium rented out for Allen West to speak at in a public park, but the park itself. The Klein campaign also aired ads about West’s troubled finances, back taxes and unpaid credit card bills. At one point, an ad produced by the state Democratic Party revealed West’s Social Security number, which the Democrats said was an accident. The uproar afterwards led to small surge in polls for West.
West, in turn, tried to link Klein in voter’s minds with President Obama’s national agenda, including health care reform and economic stimulus. He called his opponent a “pathetic liberal,” and repeatedly accused Klein of having no honor.
Going into election day, West had raised $5.6 million to Klein’s $3.4 million, but Klein had actually spent more than he raised by using reserves left over from 2008 — $4.8 million to West’s $4.4 million.