Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

Florida’s 18th District: Home of the Ugliest Political Race in America

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As noted on this blog a few weeks ago, the congressional race in Florida’s newly created 18th district has evolved into a toxic blood battle between Tea Party hero, Allen West and democratic challenger, Patrick Murphy. Yet, with election day closing in on these two candidates, the intensity of their attacks have only continued to escalate, classifying their race as what Bloomberg Businessweek calls “the ugliest political race in America.”

Allen West, a tea-party hero who happens to be African American, won the district back in 2008, the same year that the district voted 51% for President Obama. Thus, it is no surprise that the state’s Democratic party is going after his seat with a vengeance.  The idea of a black Tea Party supporter is one that doesn’t bode well with many democrats, as it can potentially serve as a threat to the often-cited counter message that the Tea Party is racist.

However, West’s political affiliation isn’t the only thing that has made him a huge target for the democrats.  For the most part, he has been the instigator of the many nasty attacks that have given his race such an infamous reputation.  Not only has West repeatedly called President Obama and his challenger, Patrick Murphy, communists, but he also recently released a mailer add that many argue crossed a major moral boundary.

In an attempt to appeal to the district’s many Jewish voters, the republican incumbent sent out a mailer that includes an image of an American flag being burned with middle-eastern demonstrators in the background on one side and Israelis holding up an Israeli flag on the other side.  The mailer also features a picture of West with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu contrasted with a quote that says Patrick Murphy is “backed by groups that are opposed to the defense of Israel.

Verbal content aside, several people on both sides of the aisle believe that West took it a step too far with the image of the flag burning. Erin Moffet, a spokeswoman from the Murphy campaign called it “appalling that Allen West would use such a disrespectful image of our flag for political advantage.  Attempting to win votes through fear mongering and hatred is beyond reprehensible.”

In response, members of the West campaign asserted that it was apparent that “Patrick Murphy hasn’t turned on the TV in the last month. American flags are burning all over the world because of the Obama administration’s failed policies.”

While these types of attacks are undoubtedly reprehensible, it’s the back and forth of attack ads between candidates that have really given this campaign its title of the “ugliest political campaign of the year.”

In a past blog, two of these devastating ads were featured.  The first was Patrick Murphy’s ad, which featured a caricature image of Allen West punching an elderly woman in the face, symbolic of what Murphy asserts will be devastating policy blows to seniors if West is re-elected.  Many people alleged that this ad also held racial undertones, although given the context this is a little questionable.

The second was an ad aired by Allen West’s campaign, which attacked Patrick Murphy for participating in a drunken brawl, possessing a fake drivers license, and being arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct in 2003.

In the recent weeks, this ad proved to be much more effective than Murphy’s, providing somewhat of a blow to Murphy’s slight lead.  However, shortly after West released this ad (and after the first blog regarding this race was posted), the Murphy campaign released an equally as powerful and eerily similar ad attacking Allen West’s military conduct.

Patrick Murphy’s rebuttal ad:

This race is currently listed as the 9th most expensive congressional campaign in the nation, with the candidates totaling $1.5 million spent on advertising from September 9th to the 30th alone. Both candidates have spent roughly the same amount of money, although incumbent, Allen West, has spent a little more.

Concurrently, most polls list the race as being a complete tossup.  As the vicious attacks continue on both sides, it is hard to tell if voters are responding positively or negatively to them, however it is unlikely that they will cease anytime soon.  One thing is for certain, though.  Whoever wins will indeed have to live with the stigma that he carried out one of the nastiest campaigns in history.


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