In 2011, the feisty Democratic West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel set her sights on taking out tea party favorite U.S. Rep. Allen West.
Former state House majority leader Adam Hasner officially threw himself into the GOP U.S. Senate primary and tried to distinguish himself as the top conservative.
But the political battle lines have changed. Now, the two will face each other for the 22nd Congressional District seat that includes portions of Broward and Palm Beach counties. The newly drawn district leans left and prompted West to go north to compete in a more conservative district.
Democrats have about a 9 percentage point voter registration edge over Republicans in the district that stretches from Fort Lauderdale to Riviera Beach. Barack Obama won there in 2008; Republican Marco Rubio won it in the Senate race in 2010.
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Both Hasner and Frankel have raised just shy of $3 million and have big-name connections: former President Bill Clinton campaigned for Frankel, while Hasner is a Jewish surrogate for Romney.
Hasner’s challenge is to lose the ultra conservative label, while Frankel has tried to overcome her reputation as an abrasive mayor who stonewalled opponents.
“She has her share of liabilities,” said David Wasserman, House editor at the Washington-based Cook Political Report, which puts this race in the leaning Democratic category. “Republicans need to find a way to capture that and cast her as an unacceptable representative in Washington.”
However, “Democrats will absolutely hammer Hasner as a tea party acolyte who was campaigning for U.S. Senate as the most conservative person in the race and obviously now he has to posture a little more to the middle to win the district.”
Hasner won his first legislative seat in 2002 and became House Majority leader in 2007. The following year, he became the first House member to raise $1 million.
“He is clearly conservative,” said Sid Dinerstein, chair of the Palm Beach County Republicans. “He is very protective of all of our money.”
While running in the Senate primary, Hasner praised the tea party movement and said that Rubio once called him the "most partisan Republican in Tallahassee.”
But his record on issues was more nuanced than he portrayed. He was once described as the consummate Republican insider — down to his red, white and blue boots made from elephant skin. While he battled labor unions and fought to reject $444 million in federal stimulus money for unemployment compensation, he also supported a watered-down climate change law, favored high-speed rail and approved a budget with billions in federal stimulus dollars.
Now he criticizes both parties for the rising debt, which has topped $16 billion.
“Regardless of your political affiliation, I think we can all agree Washington is broken and both parties are to blame ...,” Hasner said at a West Palm Beach forum in September.
Campaigning for Senate in 2011, Hasner said he’d vote for GOP U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan “without hesitation.”
Ryan’s plan would convert Medicare to a voucher plan, calls for a repeal of Obamacare and includes other spending cuts.
Hasner now says he supports the “bipartisan [Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron] Wyden/Ryan” plan, which includes traditional Medicare and the option for seniors to purchase private policies.
Frankel has repeatedly attacked Hasner for supporting a plan that she says would hurt seniors.
“I am fairly certain that our budget deficit was not caused by children with autism or 90-year-old grannies in nursing homes, so why take it out on them by cutting services?” Frankel said at a September forum. She said that Ryan’s Medicare voucher plan would cost the oldest and sickest “$6,000 more a year.”
PolitiFact has rated similar claims about the $6,000 Half True because the number comes from an older plan.
During an Oct. 17 debate, Hasner said Frankel was using “scare tactics” about Medicare.
Frankel disputed the charge, saying AARP also calls the plan risky.
Hasner and Frankel have fallen on opposite sides of most major issues. She supports Obamacare and the president’s proposal to raise taxes on those who annually make $250,000 or more. Hasner opposes Obamacare and wants to extend Bush tax cuts for all taxpayers.
Frankel won her first race for the Legislature in 1986. An outspoken liberal, she championed programs, including AIDS legislation, and fought for healthcare and social programs.
“When she needed to, she would stare down 80 members of the Legislature,” said Dan Gelber, a former Democratic state legislator from Miami Beach, who recalls Frankel sticking her finger in the chest of a House majority leader demanding that he listen to her. “She stood up to power and she did it with a lot of brains and a lot of moxy. Sometimes you have to show outrage when something is outrageous.”
In 2003, she ousted an incumbent to win the mayor’s seat in West Palm Beach. Her tenure was marked by “big city feats, big city fights” wrote the Palm Beach Post as she left office in 2011 and launched her congressional campaign.
She advocated for a new City Center — a $150 million City Hall and library project — although some opponents sought a referendum on it, the Post wrote. A 2006 grand jury report criticized the city’s “pay to play” culture but found Frankel had committed no criminal wrongdoing.
She has recently had to defend the city’s decision to give a $10 million piece of land to Digital Domain, a company that later went bankrupt. (Related to the project, the city also gave $2 million to establish a Florida State University film school, which remains open even though Digital Domain closed.) Company executives gave Frankel $20,000 in donations, the Palm Beach Post reported, which she has since turned over to charity.
A Hasner ad criticized her for taking a 40 percent pay raise while mayor — she did, though that position hadn’t had a raise in several years. Hasner also criticized her for using a police helicopter to get to a party and spending $13,000 on a marble shower in a private bathroom. She says she hitched a ride on the helicopter to zip her from one work-related function to another. And that $13,000 was the cost to build her a bathroom when a new city hall was being built — it wasn’t the cost for the shower alone, she argues.
Frankel defended her legacy in an interview: “I think most people who know West Palm Beach 10 years ago and now have seen a safer, more beautiful, more vibrant city...People in the community, they like what happened here in West Palm Beach.”