WASHINGTON — In a bid to hold on to his House seat, freshman Republican Rep. Allen West is making his opponent's bleary mug shot from nine years ago the focus of a blistering ad.
On a single night in February 2003, the ad released Friday notes, West was on an Army base in Texas, preparing to go to war. College student Patrick Murphy, meanwhile, was being arrested outside a Miami-area nightclub after an alleged drunken brawl, the ad says.
"Two men, a country in crisis. You decide," says a narrator.
The ad from the South Florida tea party star uses dramatic music and visuals of a scope's crosshairs to emulate a high-tech spy flick. Murphy's mug shot plays a prominent role in the spot.
Murphy's campaign responded by pointing out that Murphy was just 19 when he was arrested and that West was later reprimanded for his conduct in Iraq and was 42 at the time.
"The only reason (West) escaped prosecution was that he cut a deal to retire," Murphy campaign manager Anthony Kusich said in a fundraising letter Friday.
West is one of the most fiery members of the 2010 freshman class that helped Republicans take control of the House. He's one of several first-termers struggling to defend their seats after a two-year session of gridlock and infighting that dropped Congress' approval ratings to record lows. The GOP is expected to hold the House, but by a smaller margin.
West is a top Democratic target this year in the party's drive to gain 25 seats and the House majority.
The release of the ad hints at the cutthroat nature of the race.
West won his seat in 2010 on his second go for the House, unseating Democratic Rep. Ron Klein in a competitive district. The race attracted President Barack Obama, who appeared on Klein's behalf, but it wasn't enough to spare the incumbent during a tough year for Democrats.
This year, conditions are tougher for West as he fights for a second term. Mapmakers in the once-per-decade redistricting process redrew West into a more Democratic district, and he opted to run for re-election in a different district to improve his prospects. But the new turf where West is squaring off with Murphy — which runs from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach — is winnable for both parties. Murphy, a CPA, has attempted to paint West as too extreme for Florida and has gotten a hand in fundraising from former President Bill Clinton.
Murphy's adviser, Eric Johnson, said it was ironic that West would bring up his own military record in an ad hitting Murphy on legal issues. West, a lieutenant colonel, was reprimanded by the military for allegedly firing a pistol next to an Iraqi's head. He was fined $5,000 but allowed to retire with full benefits.
Murphy got some backup from the House Majority PAC, a group backing Democratic House candidates across the country, which released an ad Friday that amounts to a greatest-hits reel of West's more controversial statements, including one earlier this year in which he estimated that about 80 House Democrats are Communists. The political action committee said it is spending $1.5 million on Florida airwaves attacking West.
Although Democratic prospects for reclaiming the House majority seem dim, Florida is home to many of the party's better opportunities to pick up seats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent about $250,000 tying West to Rep. Paul Ryan, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's running mate.