As Republican U.S. Representative Allen West is hoping to be elected in a new district, two candidates from way over on the other side of the aisle are each hoping to fill the congressional seat he leaves behind.
On a bright Saturday morning in a southeast Pompano Beach neighborhood, Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs -- all legs and sunglasses in a short green skirt and sleeveless blue t-shirt -- zips by at the controls of a two-wheeled Segway.
She arrives at one of the addresses on her list. It's the home of Democratic "super-voters," the ones who never miss a primary election. Jacobs finds the couple in their driveway, packing their car for a day at the beach.
"I live here in Pompano Beach," Jacobs tells the couple. "I've been your county commissioner for 14 years and now, I'm running for Congress. The election is the 14th, and I sure would like to have your support."
It's what she needs more than anything. Two days from now, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi is due in Boca Raton to endorse Jacobs' primary opponent, former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, for the congressional seat now held by Republican U. S. Rep. Allen West. With West's move to another district, former State House majority leader Adam Hasner is now the sole Republican opponent for Jacobs or Frankel.
CUT FROM THE SAME CLOTH
The two Democrats are both liberal, and they have almost identical positions on most issues. Each of them is desperate to distinguish herself. Today, Jacobs has done that, sort of.
"I hope they remember me for my for me and my policies," Jacobs tells a reporter. "But if it’s the Segway, I'm good with that, too."
Florida House District 22 is about 60 percent Palm Beach County, with the rest in Broward, and Frankel is the clear front-runner in terms of money and name recognition. She jumped into the race a year ago, ready to take on the formidable West, and that earned her some admiring supporters, including former Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Dean Trantalis.
"I thought her willingness to go up against Mr. West was an important part of my decision to endorse her," Trantalis explained at a Frankel fundraiser in Wilton Manors. "It showed she had strength and determination to overcome what I saw as an important opponent."
The calculation was that West, the lightning rod Tea Party favorite, was such a boogeyman that Democratic wallets would open gladly for the Frankel campaign. But then, redistricting made the 22nd district more favorable to Democrats, and West bolted to run in a more Republican-leaning district.
But Frankel says contributions continued to roll in.
"I believe the paralysis in Congress is because of people like Allen West," Frankel says. "He's the epitome of what's causing the gridlock up there. But with that said, his Tea Party replacement, Adam Hasner, can do just as good a job up there, causing the gridlock, and so you know for me, I'm happy to run against him."
The Frankel-Jacobs primary is front-burner stuff for national analysts anxious to gauge the durability of the slim Republican majority in the House. "It's one of the key races that could tell us something about the outcome of house races in the fall," said Barry University political scientist Sean Foreman. "It's one of the five primaries to watch, according to Politico, and one of the top races."
A BIG DIFFERENCE
In July, Jacobs' fundraising exceeded Frankel's by $9,000. But Frankel still has ten times more money for her campaign, and Foreman thinks Jacobs is running out of time to distinguish herself on Frankel's Palm Beach County turf. Neither candidate has gone negative, but Jacobs does have a complaint.
"My opponent will not debate me," she told supporters over coffee at a recent fundraiser in Fort Lauderdale. "I have asked for four different debates. I have made my schedule clear."
Frankel doesn't see the point. "I really don't think there are debating issues between us. I've been to quite a few events with her. I don't think we have any policy differences between us."
Frankel is considered the tougher politician and that air of aggressiveness has turned off some voters. Jacobs' resume describes a consensus-builder who usually assumes the leadership of movements she joins. The telling thing, perhaps, is this: Frankel's hometown newspaper, the Palm Beach Post, has endorsed Jacobs. Jacobs' local paper, the Sun-Sentinel, has endorsed Lois Frankel.