No one ever expected Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) to go out with a whimper.
The tea party icon went to bed on election night trailing Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy by 0.8 points (about 2,500 votes) in the 18th congressional district, to which he had moved after redistricting turned his previous district decidedly blue. Since Florida law stipulates that a recount can only be requested if the race is within half a percentage point, under normal circumstances that would have been the end of the show for the losing candidate. Good job, good effort, time to begin plotting a comeback in 2014.
Except West wasn't finished. He alleged almost immediately that the election had been stolen by a pro-Murphy clerk in St. Luicie County. He asked for an injunction—which was refused—to impound the voting machines in St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties, and demanded a full hand recount in St. Lucie. He got his wish on Sunday, sort of. The county board of elections convened in an abandoned shopping mall to do a partial recount of the ballots that came in during the last three days of early voting. The tally, per the Palm Beach Post:
Murphy’s total dropped by 667 votes and West lost 132 votes in the recount of 16,275 ballots from the last three days of early voting in St. Lucie County. West's net gain of 535 votes still leaves him about 0.58 percent behind Murphy in congressional District 18, which also includes Martin County and part of Palm Beach County.
That's quite a swing, given the limited sample, but it still leaves West behind by more than the margin needed for a recount. The West campaign insists the real problem wasn't with the last three days of early voting (as problematic as the counting turned out to be), it was with the first three days of voting. So the St. Lucie partial recount has only exacerbated their anxiety. On Sunday, West's campaign was characteristically apopleptic, issuing this statement:
What was originally viewed as dangerous incompetence on the part of [St. Lucie County Elections Supervisor] Gertrude Walker now appears more and more like a willful attempt to steal the election for Patrick Murphy. Nothing about this story adds up. If there is truly nothing wrong with the data from the first three days of voting, why will it not be released?
West for Congress will pursue every legal means necessary to ensure a fair election, not only to ensure Gertrude Walker is held accountable, but also ultimately replaced, so the citizens of St Lucie County will be ensured fair and accurate elections."
Given that West is already alleging a conspiracy against him, this episode doesn't stand much chance of winding down any time soon.
In 2003, the San Francisco Chronicle sized up Rep. Pete Stark, a California Democrat then serving out his 16th term, thusly: "Only a politician who assumes he has a job for life could behave so badly on a semi-regular basis by spewing personalized invective that might get him punched in certain East Bay taverns." That was nine years ago. But Stark, comfortably situated in a deep-blue East Bay district, really did seem to have the seat for life, affording a level of job security that allowed him to comfortably do things like threaten to throw reporters out of windows and call a female Republican colleague a "whore."
In 2011, though, California introduced a new open primary system, in which the top two finishers advance to the general election regardless of their party—which meant that, for the first time in forever, Stark faced serious competition. The result: A six-point loss on Tuesday to Alameda County prosecutor Eric Swalwell.
Stark, though, didn't go out quietly. In a desperate bid for a 21st term, he launched a campaign built on a series of totally unsubstantied claims about his opponent, the local media, and anyone who crossed him. Via the San Francisco Chronicle:
In the latest episode raising questions about the erratic behavior of California’s longest standing Congressman, a former California State Assembly Majority leader said Tuesday that East Bay Democratic Rep. Pete Stark erupted in an angry tirade—questioning his sanity, threatening his livelihood and even vowing to call social workers to check on his kids—after he informed Stark he would endorse his opponent in the November general election.
Elsewhere, he launched 100-percent false arguments at the Chronicle itself, sourcing the claims to his 16-year-old son:
In a Tuesday meeting with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board, [Stark] wrongfully accused Debra Saunders, a Republican who writes the paper's "Token Conservative" blog, of having donated to the campaign of his primary opponent, Eric Swalwell. When asked to provide evidence for his claim, Stark paged through a pile of research materials (which he oddly said had been prepared by "a 16-year-old investigative reporter"—his own son) before admitting he had incorrectly named Saunders. He then tried to point to former Dublin City Councilwoman Claudia McCormick and claimed she worked for the Chronicle, but that was wrong, too.
This week, Castro Valley real estate broker Otto Catrina said Stark made a false charge about him. Catrina contacted a lawyer.
Catrina said he was shocked when his phone started "ringing off the hook" this week after he was named in an attack mailer from Stark that claimed he was one of the "shady," big-money "developers" who have donated to Swalwell, a Dublin city councilman.
"I've never developed anything in my life," said Catrina, who is on the board of directors of the California Association of Realtors.
Despite the fact that allegations that Swalwell was being bribed by developers were unsubstantiated, Stark erupted at his opponent during an April debate:
Stark, still seated at the dais at the Hayward City Council chambers, reportedly called Swalwell a "fucking crook" as they shook hands.
When contacted later by phone, Swalwell confirmed the exchange with The Citizen while adding Stark also called him a "slimeball" and told him "you're going to jail."
That was in addition to calling his opponent a "pipsqueak" and a "junior leaguer."
Harry Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader in the Senate, couldn't have asked for a better night. Every incumbent Democratic senator up for re-election won; the party picked up a seat in Massachusetts (and perhaps another in Maine); and, assuming the results stand, won a race it had no business winning in deep-red North Dakota. But the big news from Tuesday isn't just that the Democrats held onto the majority, it's what that majority now looks like—much more progressive.
Four of the five most most liberal candidates in contested Senate races won on Tuesday (only Arizona Democrat Richard Carmona fell short), according to ideological ratings compiled by University of Chicago political scientist Boris Shor. Per Shor's rankings, Connecticut Rep. Chris Murphy was the most liberal candidate in any contested race to win a Senate seat—more liberal than the progressive icon Elizabeth Warren, even. And Murphy replaced a centrist Independent Joe Lieberman. That's a big boost. Right behind Murphy is Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a member of the House Progressive Caucus who seems a sure bet to become something the retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl never was—a loud voice for progressive causes. Warren, the fourth-most liberal Democratic challenger (behind Hawaii's Mazie Hirono, who won easily) replaced Sen. Scott Brown, a moderate Republican. A political celebrity even before she entered the race on account of her work monitoring TARP, Warren will likely be handed an oversized role for an incoming lawmaker on issues like housing and banking. Here's a chart, by way of the Washington Post's Ezra Klein:
Ezra Klein/Washington Post
The biggest win for liberals came in Missouri, where Sen. Claire McCaskill, never a liberal favorite, managed to take down Rep. Todd Akin, the second-most conservative candidate on the ballot (only Wyoming's John Barrasso outdid him). Elsewhere, Democrats replaced a moderate Republican Sen. Richard Lugar with Rep. Joe Donnelly, whom Shor gives an ideological score of .03—just about dead-center. That's a slight shift, but it's something. The only real reversal of the trend came in Nebraska, where centrist Dem Ben Nelson was replaced by Deb Fischer, the most conservative challenger to win on Tuesday.
The Senate's shift to the left is consistent with two other notable developments on Tuesday night. As my colleague Adam Serwer noted, liberals scored big wins at the state level, going 4-for-4 in gay marriage initiatives (legalizing it in Washington state, Maryland, and Maine), decriminalizing marijuana in Colorado, and giving undocumented kids in Maryland in-state college tuition. And as a whole, Congress took a few steps closer to resembling the nation it serves—Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard will be the first practicing Hindu to serve in the House; Baldwin the first openly-gay Senator; Hirono the first Asian woman. For the first time, women comprise an entire state delegation (New Hampshire's), and a record number of women will join the 112th Congress.
Update: The Associated Press has called Minnesota's 6th district for Rep. Michele Bachmann, who held off Jim Graves by one point. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Rep. Allen West trails by about 2,500 votes, but the race has not yet been called.
Adding to the GOP's misery on Tuesday night: The continued demise of the tea party wave. Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Allen West (R-Fla.) were both locked in tight races with their Democratic challengers as of early Wednesday morning, with recounts possibly forthcoming. (Update: As of 4 a.m. EST, the district's final tally showed West losing by just under 2,500 votes.) A third ringleader, Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), lost to Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth by nine points.
Bachmann's poor performance—she led by just 1244 votes with 91.4 percent of precincts reporting as of 4 a.m. EST—was a reflection of her own dimming popularity in a district she's represented since 2006. She was expected to cruise to re-election after a non-partisan redistricting panel made her suburban Twin Cities seat, already Minnesota's most conservative, even more red. But after a quixotic presidential campaign and a never-ending string of embarrassing statements (such as her assertion that a top Hillary Clinton aide was a Muslim Brotherhood plant), that's not how it turned out. Bachmann faced off against Jim Graves, a Minneapolis hotel magnate who was able to give his campaign seed money and—critically, in a tight race—persuade the Independent Party not to field a candidate in the race. That the race was tightening was evident over the final weeks of the campaign, as Bachmann sought to redefine herself, improbably enough, as a independent-minded deal-breaker capable of working across party lines to bring home pork for her district.
West, a freshman legislator, sought to win a district that went to Obama by just three points in 2008. But he faced a formidable challenger in Patrick Murphy, a former Republican whose family runs a huge contracting business in South Florida. Murphy picked up the backing of national Democrats (Bill Clinton flew to West Palm Beach for a fundraiser) and raised more money than almost any other challenger in the country this fall. He also received a boost from a super-PAC, American Sunrise, seeded with $250,000 from Murphy's father, Thomas. Like Bachmann, West tried to shift attention away from his bomb-throwing rhetoric, running campaign ads portraying himself as a defender of the social safety net, and a dyed-in-the-wool environmentalist. To wit:
In one of the campaign's most memorable television spots, he drew a contrast between his two-decade military career and Murphy's youth—seizing on a disorderly conduct arrest from 2003, when West was on the verge of shipping to Iraq. (Left unmentioned: The detainee abuse that sparked West's return stateside.) Watch:
With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Murphy led West by just over 1,000 votes.
Alan Grayson, the bomb-throwing Florida Democratic congressman who was tossed out in the tea party wave of 2010, is going back to Washington. After moving to the newly drawn, deep-blue 9th congressional district after redistricting, Grayson is easily topping his Republican challenger, lawyer and perennial candidate Todd Long, by double digits.
Grayson, who served just one term in Congress before losing to GOP Rep. Dan Webster, carved out a reputation in Washington as a progressive capable of exploding at any moment on nearly any issue. Among other things, Grayson said that former Vice President Dick Cheney has blood "dripping from his teeth," called a female lobbyist a "K-Street whore," said Rush Limbaugh was "more lucid when he was a drug addict," and warned "Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick."
But if you expected Grayson to tone down his act during his two years in the wilderness, you obviously don't know anything about Alan Grayson. On Sunday, he wrote on his Facebook page that, "Sometime between now and Tuesday, they'll say that an Obama victory means the Mayan Apocalypse, 45 days later, and only Mitt Romney/Todd Long/whoever can save us from that. They just keep pushing that big, red PANIC button, over and over and over again."
Grayson's bombast could be exhausting at times, but as my colleague Andy Kroll noted in 2010, he was also a voice for issues even Democrats tended to ignore:
In the recent foreclosure debacle, which introduced regular Americans to "robo signers" and "foreclosure mills," Grayson was a leading voice demandinginvestigations and highlighting the most glaring problems with the foreclosure pipeline. His pressure, combined with dozens of other members of Congress, helped to spur a nationwide probe involving by all 50 state attorneys to scrutinize into banks' alleged wrongdoing in the foreclosure process.
If GOP Rep. Allen West holds on to win, Florida can probably lay claim to the two members of Congress most hated by the other side.