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Among the hundreds of races underway for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, one of the most expensive and nastiest is in a district on Florida's Atlantic Coast. Although he's just a freshman, Republican Allen West is known nationally for his Tea Party conservatism, his frequent appearances on Fox News and his provocative statements. He once called House Democrats members of the communist party.
As NPR's Greg Allen reports, West now faces a tough challenge from a well-funded Democrat, Patrick Murphy.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Allen West has already raised $15 million. That's more than any other member of the House, except for Speaker John Boehner and former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. He's done it by speaking his mind, routinely delivering incendiary comments that take aim at Muslims, feminists, liberals or, as in this speech to a Republican group in January, Democratic political leaders.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
REPRESENTATIVE ALLEN WEST: Take your message of enslaving the entrepreneur will and spirit of the American people somewhere else. You can take it to Europe. You can take it to the bottom of the sea. You can take it to the North Pole, but get the hell out of the United States of America.
ALLEN: Out talking to voters, though, Allen West is a little more subdued.
WEST: What's your major mill supplier out here?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Mostly out of North Florida and South Georgia.
ALLEN: Because of reapportionment, West is running for a different seat. When the map was redrawn, his old district became more Democratic. He elected to run here, a more Republican district just up the coast. Recently, he toured A-1 Trusses, a company in Saint Lucie County that manufactures wood trusses for the housing industry, an industry that in Florida is still on the ropes.
In a breakroom at the factory, 50 workers jam in next to lockers and vending machines to hear West's campaign pitch, the Republican plan, West says, lower taxes, fewer government regulations, will bring more companies and businesses to Saint Lucie County.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
WEST: If we get people moving here because we're going to have new industries that are built here, guess what they're going to want to do? They'll want to build homes. And if they want to build homes, guess what they're going to need? Trusses for those homes. That's why we have to get people back to work.
ALLEN: Even after moving to a new district, West is facing a battle. Republicans have just a two-point registration margin over Democrats here, and one-quarter of the voters are independents. West's opponents have been busy for months running ads to help introduce him to voters.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL ADS)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: West has socked it to seniors, voting to end Medicare as we know it.
ALLEN: This ad, which began running over the summer, shows a cartoon of West wearing boxing gloves and trunks punching senior citizens and women.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He's whacked women with his votes for huge cuts in women's health care funding and he's mauled middle class families...
ALLEN: The ad was paid for by a pac run by the father of West's Democratic opponent, Patrick Murphy. West has called the ad despicable and disgusting and he answered with a sharp attack of his own, airing an ad showing Murphy's mug shot from 2003 when he was 19 years old and arrested for disorderly intoxication.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: That night on South Beach, Miami, Patrick Murphy is thrown out of a club for fighting, covered in alcohol and unable to stand. Murphy then confronts and verbally assaults a police officer.
ALLEN: West calls Murphy, a 29-year-old businessman and CPA, a spoiled brat. In a televised debate, Murphy, a former Republican, portrayed himself as a moderate who's willing to work with the other party, sort of an anti-West.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
PATRICK MURPHY: And when you're spending your time calling people communists or comparing them to Nazis and Marxists, that's no way to get things done. Look, at the end of the day, we've got to find compromise and make the tough decisions in our country right now.
ALLEN: Murphy has benefitted from West's proclivity for making people angry. It's helped him raise nearly $3.5 million. In the debate, West refused to apologize for any ads or comments he's made, such as, one, calling as many as 81 House Democrats communists.
WEST: When we talk about progressivism and the history of progressivism and where it came from, I think it's very easy to talk about communism, Marxism, socialism and also modern day state-ism.
ALLEN: Outside groups are also pouring money into the race, more than $4 million so far. Most analysts are calling it a toss-up. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.