August 15, 2012 at 11:55 am
By Jonathan Mattise, TCPalm
STUART — An hour after polls closed Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Allen West had already breezed by Martin County Sheriff Robert Crowder and set his sights on a November congressional matchup that could be one of the country’s most expensive.
Sporting blue jeans and a button-down Polo shirt, West was in win mode by the time his 7:30 p.m. celebration kicked off. The Palm Beach Gardens Republican started posing for pictures and signing autographs early in the evening. He fired up supporters with a rousing speech, and afterward directed the crowd to stop their cheers of “West! West!,” and start chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A.”
West scored more than 75 percent of the vote in St. Lucie and Palm Beach, and took more than 60 percent in Martin. He also reminded a jammed room at his Colorado Avenue headquarters that the real battle will be in November against Democrat Patrick Murphy.
“This really is the intermediate objective, if you understand the military,” West told his supporters. “The final objective comes on the sixth of November. We need to be focused on that now. This is all about what each and every one of you have done.”
District 18 Republican voters overwhelmingly helped the nationally known retired lieutenant colonel clear his first hurdle to a second term in Congress. West, a Broward County tea party figure who moved to Palm Beach Gardens to run locally, will square off in the general election against a rival multimillion-dollar raiser in Murphy. The Democratic contender had no problems with his primary competition, either.
West said his camp is ready to respond to every attack thrown at him, and he said he’s lining up a place on Hutchinson Island for the next victory party.
“I tell you what,” West said. “It’s going to be a bigger victory and better party on the seventh of November.”
The primary pitted West’s national persona, fundraising and fiery tea party message against Crowder’s decades of Treasure Coast service and call for compromise in Congress.
In the GOP-only matchup, West had the local party establishment on his side and raised $10.7 million more than Crowder. Neither advantage was a surprise.
Crowder irked Republican officials by crossing party lines several times, most notably by backing Democrat Alex Sink over Republican Gov. Rick Scott in a TV spot during the 2008 cycle.
Crowder said his camp accomplished quite a bit, regardless of the outcome.
“One of the big things we wanted to accomplish was to give the local people a choice, because without this, our representative is being assigned to us rather than elected by us,” Crowder said from his election night party at Tin Fish restaurant in Stuart.
West’s supporters clung to every smaller-government word he spoke Tuesday. The cheers only got louder when he proclaimed liberalism has “never been successful anywhere in the world.”
“He’s the best,” West supporter Ron Vosatka of Palm City said. “We need a guy who’s really going to speak for the people and do the right thing.”
West has mustered almost $10.8 million for his reelection bid — the third highest total in the U.S. House — and has shipped about $4.8 million worth of mailers to voters and prospective donors nationwide to keep money flowing in. West’s $7.6 million total tab leading up to the primary makes him the third-biggest campaign spender in the House.
West used his big bankroll to pay more than $1 million for four TV commercials, almost $500,000 for online ads, a slew of local town halls and meet-ups with locals and flights across the country for fundraisers.
The cash has only begun flowing. Democratic Super PACs are already spending against West, and the advertising back-and-forth between candidates and committees started before primary votes were counted. West decried the Democratic attention on the race.
“I hate to tell you, a lot of people are going to waste money,” West said. “That’s on them.”
Crowder, who dubbed his campaign a grassroots effort, struggled to scrape together donations. He raised $74,100 through July 25 and spent $23,000, including a single direct mail piece that cost about $11,000.
West largely ignored Crowder’s candidacy. He declined to debate the sheriff and called him a liberal in two mailers and in a guest column in the Palm Beach Post. Crowder called West’s campaign trail statements divisive and counterproductive to getting work done in Washington.
West uprooted from the Palm Beach-Broward seat he holds after it turned more Democratic with redistricting. Murphy followed him north from Fort Lauderdale a week later, and Crowder joined the District 18 race in mid-February.
The Treasure Coast-anchored seat almost evenly splits between registered Republicans and Democrats, and its voters narrowly picked President Obama over Sen. John McCain in 2008. Political analyst Stuart Rothernberg called District 18 a toss-up contest in a June report on House races.