WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - One day last week, Allen West strode into a windowless half-ballroom in a nondescript hotel near the airport here to address a meeting of the Independent Insurance Agents of Palm Beach County. His foot crossed the threshold of the room at exactly 11:30 a.m.
The freshman Congressman from Florida, unlike most politicians, shows up to his events on time. To the minute. To the second.
Most of the insurance agents had not yet arrived.
As he waited, West, 51 with perfect posture, easily schmoozed with a small and friendly crowd.
"General West," one older man said as he greeted the former Army lieutenant colonel.
"Oh, you promoted me," West replied with a big smile.
Sixty or 70 people settled into their seats and began to eat their lunches.
West's speech began with a numbers-based discussion of debt, deficit and unemployment. It evolved into a lengthy and nuanced explanation of taxes and fiscal policy.
West argued that the politicians who want to raise taxes on the top two tax brackets are essentially raising taxes on small-business owners.
"As a small-business owner, you operate as a subchapter S or an LLC. You use your personal income tax rate," he said.
This is not the firebrand West with whom cable news viewers might be most familiar. West delivered a cogent, sober, wonky, data-driven argument for a Republican way of governing. He made the case for the GOP approach to the federal debt and fiscal responsibility.
The event was part of his official Congressional duties, so he didn't mention his November opponent or his targeted re-election race. After the speech, he took questions. In answering them, he quoted Plato from memory and referenced Phoenician sea power.
Later, after posing for photos with a dozen fans who seemed giddy to meet him, a reporter asked him a question about his Democratic opponent, Patrick Murphy. A different side of West appeared.
"I don't care what Patrick Murphy says about me," West said. "Patrick Murphy is irrelevant. I am running against a stand-in. I don't have an opponent. Until I know he can stand up and do what I just did, he doesn't exist."
Murphy, however, does exist. The 29-year-old has raised about $2.4 million so far this cycle. And though he is young and new to politics, Murphy has developed into a polished candidate since he began his campaign early last year.
Still, make no mistake: This race is a referendum on West.
Whether it is a referendum on the sober, thoughtful, substantial, data-driven convincer West or the partisan provocateur who called Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) "vile, unprofessional, and despicable" and said 78 to 81 Members of Congress were Communists may well determine whether he comes back for a second term.
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