Friday, October 31st, 2014

Allen West and Patrick Murphy launch dueling attack ads in a Florida Congressional race

An ad from Patrick Murphy attacks Allen West.
An ad from Patrick Murphy attacks Allen West.

Years before Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West of South Florida was famous for calling about 80 members of Congress "communists", he was famous for something else far away from the partisan wars in Washington D.C.

Lt. Col. West initially became famous for his treatment of an Iraqi detainee, when he fired his gun over his head trying to extract information from him in 2003. West was ultimately fined and retired from the Army. While he said his methods weren’t right, he also defended himself:

"If it's about the lives of my soldiers at stake, I'd go through hell with a gasoline can," he testified.

He moved to South Florida, started to speak to locals about his Army experience and the brash-talking black Republican launched his Congressional bid. His campaign drew scant attention in 2008, but two years later, amid a tea party spirit and anger about the economy, a well-financed West ousted U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton.

In 2012, redistricting transformed the Broward/Palm Beach Congressional District 22 from a swing district to left-leaning, so West moved his campaign to safer conservative territory, specifically the newly drawn District 18, which spans parts of Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Martin counties. Based on voter performance, this could be close: These voters narrowly went for George W. Bush in 2004 and narrowly for Obama in 2008.

West is now far ahead in an expensive campaign war with a 29-year-old political newcomer and Democrat, Patrick Murphy, whose wealthy family owns a successful construction business.

Known for his blunt style, West has tried to soften his message, showing himself with school children and talking about finding solutions. But he’s tough-talking in an ad attacking Murphy’s character.

A recent West ad claims that "Murphy is questioning the actions of a soldier in combat fighting to protect his men. Why? To hide his drunken assault of a police officer."

We looked at whether Murphy was hiding "his drunken assault of a police officer" and rated the statement Mostly False.

Murphy has also tried to attack West’s character zeroing in on West’s 2003 incident. Murphy’s ad states: "West was criminally charged with violating the uniform code of military justice, found guilty of three counts of aggravated assault, and relieved of his command. The final Army report: West 'performed illegal acts, merited court martial, faced 11 years in prison.' Allen West. He just isn’t who he says he is."

We looked whether the final Army report said West 'performed illegal acts, merited court martial, faced 11 years in prison.' We rated that Half True.

The attack on Murphy -- in his first political race -- is fresh for voters, while West’s 2003 military incident has been extensively reported for years.

The Cook Report has labeled this race a "toss up " while Rothenberg Political Report placed it as toss up/tilt Republican

"It’s going to be one of most expensive, one of nastiest races anywhere in the country," said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political report. "This has obviously gotten personal. ... We’ve moved beyond issues. Each of them are trying to discredit the other as even a credible human being."

But are the words they use to try to discredit each other accurate? Read our fact-checks to find out the details.