Congressman Allen West has compared Democrats to Nazis, said dozens of his Democratic colleagues are communists and called a congresswoman vile and despicable. He said President Barack Obama is "probably the dumbest person walking around in America" and described himself as the modern day Harriet Tubman leading black voters away from Democrats who keep them on the plantation.
Those statements and others have outraged Democrats, who have targeted him for defeat. Too bad for them, the South Florida Republican says.
West, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, rode into office on the 2010 Republican wave, using tea party momentum and massive fundraising from donors around the country to oust a Democratic incumbent. He's a darling of tea partiers but Democrats see him as a polarizing figure whose words will convince independents and moderate Republicans that he's too extreme. They're calling him one of their top national targets.
"Truth should never be outspoken, truth should be truth. Now if there are people that don't want to accept it and understand it, they've got problems within themselves," West said.
But Steve Israel, the New York congressman who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said West goes too far.
"This is an example of where the extremist record actually meets the extremist rhetoric and we look forward to inviting everyone to examine the rhetoric and the record and deciding if either is working for them in solving their problems," Israel said.
In some ways, West is the Republican version of former Congressman Alan Grayson, an Orlando-area Democrat and liberal firebrand who received national attention in 2009 for saying Republicans' health care plan was for sick people to "die quickly."
Neither West nor Grayson held elected office before running for Congress. Both toppled an incumbent of the opposite party after failing to get elected in their first attempt. Both received national attention as freshmen congressmen because of inflammatory remarks. Both have used the attention to raise money nationally. Both earned adoration from their parties' hardcore faithful and both are lightning rods for the opposition. And now Democrats want West to have another thing in common with Grayson: only one-term in Congress. Grayson was soundly defeated in 2010.
"There's no question that Alan had some pretty passionate feelings and some pretty strong rhetoric. The difference between Alan Grayson and Congressman West, is that Congressman Grayson actually voted to create jobs, he voted to build infrastructure in Florida, he voted to protect Medicare," Israel said. "If people want to be extreme and inflammatory and call people names, go ahead. But it's his record that is so damaging to the people of Florida."
West scoffs at the comparison to Grayson.
"I'm not going to stand up there and say the other side wants people to die," West said. "My passion is fueled by service to this nation and I don't know what his passion was fueled by and that's very clear and evident to a lot of people."
Since taking office, West has gained attention for:
— Attacking Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also chairs the Democratic National Committee. After she mentioned him during floor discussion on Medicare benefits, West sent her an email that read, "You are the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the US House of Representatives." He now uses her as a foil in his fundraising appeals. She refuses to talk about him.
— His response after he was asked at a town hall meeting how many members of Congress are "card-carrying Marxists." West replied, "There's about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party."
— Saying, "If Joseph Goebbels was around, he'd be very proud of the Democrat Party, because they have an incredible propaganda machine." Goebbels was Adolph Hitler's propaganda minister.
— His comments about liberal activist women. "All of these women that have been neutering American men and bringing us to the point of this incredible weakness … let them know that we are not going to have our men become subservient," he said.
— Saying that black Democratic leaders are like plantation owners overseeing black voters like they were slaves. "I'm here as the modern day Harriet Tubman to lead people on the underground railroad away from that plantation into a sense of sensibility," he said.
Does West regret any of it?
"No. Nothing. Absolutely not," he said.
He also believes that Democrats are targeting him because they're afraid he gives black voters a reason to consider Republican candidates. In most elections, about 90 percent of black voters support Democrats.
"I'm a threat to what the Democrat Party stands for. Why would they want to attack a 51-year-old, African-American who has served in the United States military for 22 years?" West said. "Been married for 23 years, has a wife who's accomplished — an MBA and a PhD — and two very exceptional daughters. Now what the heck do they want to attack that for? I think it's one simple thing. They fear that. They fear that voice and that's all there is to it, and I think that's a shame."
Democrats criticize him over and over again. The liberal blog Think Progress posted a list called "Rep. Allen West's 15 Most Outrageous Statements" and Patrick Murphy, the only Democrat challenging him, put together a video to show West as inflammatory.
"The hardest thing was editing down to two minutes," said Murphy, who acknowledged that in 2010 voters admired West's candor.
"In the beginning, some people liked it," said Murphy, a 29-year-old accountant and small-business owner. "They said that the guy speaks his mind, but that's over. Independents and Republicans that we're speaking with now are coming to us out of the blue saying, `This isn't America, this isn't right.' It's about moving the country forward, it's not about this rhetoric anymore."
Murphy has benefited from West's remarks, gaining a significant amount of out-of-district support — though the bulk of his donors are Floridians. He's raised $1.8 million, more than all but two Democrats who are challenging incumbent House Republicans. The vast majority of West's support comes from outside of Florida. He has raised $7.8 million, though he spends a lot to make a lot — this cycle he has spent more than $2.7 million on fundraising mail solicitations.
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny said voters like West because he isn't canned like other politicians.
"Our debt is on the verge of economic suicide and you've got politicians that run around and everything they say is poll tested. It's all the perfect language — the American people this, the American people that — and people are sitting back going, `Wait a minute, who the hell's fighting for me?"' Curry said. "Allen West is plainspoken and people feel like they have a fighter. That scares people on the left."
During a town hall in early April, West spoke with a tone and style similar to a classroom teacher as he explained why the economy and government spending are the most important issues facing Washington right now. He had a large screen behind him projecting graphs and charts. He ended with a question and answer session as a national debt clock rapidly rung up numbers on the screen.
"I'm the number one target for the Democrat Party. OK? Fifteen months in political office. Never been a politician before. I've never been a mayor, never been a commissioner, never been in the state House, state Senate. Why is this simple guy from the inner city of Atlanta, Georgia, that's a humble, old soldier, all of a sudden drawing the ire of an entire party? Because I show you that," West said, pointing at the debt clock. "I'm not going to lay down and let people steamroll me."
And while known for needling Obama, he didn't take the bait when one attendee in the crowd of about 100 asked about an Arizona sheriff who said an investigation found Obama's birth certificate might be forged.
"Stop it. Stop. OK? It's got to be about policy, folks. Don't get distracted. Don't go down the rabbit hole. The next thing you know, you lose focus on what's really important. OK?" West said. "I really don't care about where he was born. I care about where he's taking our country. That's more important."
The crowd clearly adored West. But it was also clearly a Republican crowd.
"He's a man of integrity. He has our country at heart, he himself served in service and I think he's a brilliant man," said Marie Kastenbauer, 77, of Pompano Beach. "I call him a man of courage because he deeply believes what he says and he's not afraid to say it. When he says something he honestly believes it in his heart."