- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 13, 2009

For the second time in four years, retired Lt. Col. Allen West will attempt to become a U.S. congressman from Florida’s 22nd District. For the 2010 election, however, he will be running with the full support of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“We really surprised a lot of people at the federal level,” Col. West said in an exclusive interview with The Washington Times.

With limited funding, the NRCC was focused on congressional races in 2008 that were close and probable victories for the Republican Party, but not in Col. West’s campaign. “When it comes to NRCC and party structure, they probably saw me as a risk, because they thought I was new to the scene and we were putting together an eight-month campaign,” said Col. West. “I received no funding or endorsement [from the NRCC] in 2008 and nothing to this point.”

Col. West declared his candidacy for Congress in May 2008, eight months before the general election and while on deployment in Afghanistan. He used blogs, radio interviews and Web videos to get his name and message to the public. Yet 2008 proved to be the year of Democratic victories for the Senate, the House and the presidency: Col. West lost his bid to unseat Rep. Ron Klein, a Democrat.

Col. West has a master’s degree in political science from Kansas State University and a master’s degree in military arts and science in political theory and military operations from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Desert Storm.

He will be touting his military experience in his campaign. “The military teaches the five C’s of leadership: courage, competence, conviction, commitment and character. … This has not been coming out of Washington,” Col. West said.

He said he derived managerial capabilities in the armed forces, particularly by leading more than 600 troops into battle at a given time. “Congress needs to focus on principles and values,” he said.

The conservative Republican, who is black, said the electorate will judge him on his character and merits, not his race. Yet he said he thinks he has a chance to reach out to a minority audience that voted almost entirely for Democrats in the 2008 election. “The black community is probably the most conservative community in America on Sunday,” said Col. West. “But from Monday to Saturday it is a different story.”

Col. West said his parents raised him to believe that every American has the opportunity to succeed.

With the help of a strong grass-roots following, Col. West received 45.3 percent of the vote in an election that was widely dominated by the opposing party. He is now confident that the party leadership will fully support his campaign.

“According to the latest FEC reports, we are top 10 in Florida, in terms of fundraising for congressional candidates and incumbents,” said Col. West, whose campaign through the end of June had raised more than $260,000. When Col. West ran his eight-month campaign, he raised a total of $583,000.

Col. West used a military analogy to explain the previous lack of support from party leaders: “When you become a leader in a military unit, is someone going to automatically give you a promotion without you having proved yourself? Of course not. You have to prove yourself,” said Col. West. “I didn’t get my face all tight, or show any attitude; it is what it is, and I worked hard. When you go out and get 45 percent [of the vote] in a year when it was supposed to be bad for you and your party, you get attention.”

Allen West surprised the pundit class with the strong challenge he gave Ron Klein incumbent in 2008, and we’re confident he can close the sale in 2010,” said NRCC’s Southeast regional press secretary, Andy Sere. The NRCC is now poised to take advantage of the colonel’s momentum from the 2008 campaign in order to regain a seat that was held by Republican E. Clay Shaw Jr. for 14 years, until 2007.

Col. West has no primary opponent, so the NRCC is likely to wait until the general election season is in full swing before it helps him win the 22nd District seat.

Other former military members who will be running for Congresss as Republicans in 2010 include Scott Rigell, for Virginia’s 2nd District; Steve Stivers, for Ohio’s 15th District; Vaughn Ward, for Idaho’s 1st District; and Adam Kinzinger, for Illinois’ 11th District. The NRCC has taken notice that many veterans who return home from war are natural leaders and can display strong characteristics that are vital to the political arena. “Military members running for office bring a lot of diverse talents to the table in terms of leadership, courage and commitment that no other profession provides,” Col. West said.

He said he does not necessarily secure the same type of funding that a distinguished lawyer or businessman could. “You cannot judge a veteran to a businessman or a lawyer because their experiences have been so different. You have to evaluate a military candidate a tad bit different, and our principles and values will lead to funds being raised.”

“The NRCC has made a strong emphasis on recruiting community leaders. There is no better example of that than the military veterans who have defended their country and are now working to serve their fellow citizens in Congress,” said Paul Lindsey, deputy communications director for the NRCC.

Col. West said his upbringing gives him unique experience as a candidate.

“I was born and raised in an inner city in Atlanta, Georgia. I have those experiences that many people say Republicans and conservatives don’t have. I can say ‘go back to my neighborhood and see the effects of those failed social programs,’” said Col. West. “When you have lived those life experiences, you have credibility and are invited back.”

He said there will always be people who won’t listen to his message, which is based on conservative principles.

“You spend your time with the group of people that are willing to listen and you bring the message to them,” said Col. West. “The power has to come from the individual American, not the government: We must focus on empowerment, not entitlement.”

He said he is willing to reach out to people who do not typically vote Republican.

“I thrive on getting out there on the street, knocking on doors and meeting as many people as possible,” said Col. West. “I am not running to try and appease a state or national structure, I am running to be a representative of the people of the 22nd District. … As a battalion commander, if I am taking care of my 500 or 600 soldiers, they will make sure I look good to my general. When it comes to public office, it is the same way: If the people in 22nd know I am the type of person that they want representing them, I am confident the support will come.”

• Aaron Marcus is a political science major at Yeshiva University.

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