Viewed as a long-shot to defeat Congressman Connie Mack in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner decided earlier this year that he would jump into the race for Congressional District 22.
He now finds himself as something of an underdog in the battle to represent this district, which runs south from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale before hooking west and heading toward Weston.
But he has kept pace with former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel in fundraising — both had raised more than $2.9 million as of September — with Frankel’s edge at less than $50,000. And Hasner reported more cash on hand than Frankel, herself a former legislator.
The race is also in some ways a battle over defining Hasner, 42, in the heavily Democratic district. Registered Democratic voters outnumber registered Republicans by 9 percentage points. Former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink carried the district by roughly that margin in her unsuccessful run for governor in 2010; President Barack Obama won it by 14 points in 2008.
That could pose a challenge for Hasner, who has cast himself as a solid conservative in the race and was known as a strong partisan during his time as majority leader — a job that often demands that quality.
Hasner is trying to solve that riddle by pitching a “pox-on-both-houses” message on the deficit.
“Regardless of your political affiliation, I think we can all agree on this: Washington is broken and both political parties are to blame for the fiscal mess that we’re in,” Hasner said Wednesday during a debate between the two sponsored by the Palm Beach Post and WPTV.
Frankel, 64, used much of that showdown to hammer Hasner on his more conservative positions, from support for the controversial budget plan authored by Congressman Paul Ryan, who is presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate, to his opposition to abortion in most cases.
In a district where senior citizens comprise about a fifth of the population, and about a third of households include someone older than 65, Ryan’s plan to essentially turn Medicare into a voucher system for voters below the age of 55 could prove potent. But Hasner has looked to turn the Democratic argument that the plan would “end Medicare as we know it” on its ear.
“I have plan to make sure that Medicare is there for those who are going to come after, in future generations, people my age and younger,” he said. “Ms Frankel doesn’t have a plan for that, and that’s what’s going to end Medicare as we know it.”
Frankel’s supporters say her efforts are working. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a poll Wednesday showing Frankel leading the race with 49 percent of the vote to Hasner’s 39 percent.
“With only three weeks left in a district that voted 57 percent for President Obama in 2008, Lois Frankel is in an excellent position to win in November,” spokeswoman Stephanie Formas said in a news release. “Floridians are rejecting Adams Hasner’s extreme record as a partisan career politician and his support for the Romney-Ryan plan to end Medicare.”
Both candidates have also battled over Frankel’s tenure as mayor. Frankel says West Palm Beach has changed dramatically over the last decade.
“It’s safer,” she said. “It’s cleaner. It’s more vibrant. It’s a better place, where people want to be.”
But Hasner has pointed to a defunct economic development deal involving a company known as Digital Domain. West Palm Beach worked with the state and Port St. Lucie to draw the now-bankrupt company to the area. As a part of the project, Florida State University opened a program in West Palm Beach.
Executives of Digital Domain later contributed $20,000 to Frankel’s campaign, though the Palm Beach Post reported Tuesday that she has given the money to charity.
“I think it goes along the lines of the culture of corruption that we’ve seen in West Palm Beach for far too long, the pay-to-play politics,” Hasner said.
Frankel countered that the city never gave money to the company — it didn’t meet the benchmarks — and said the FSU program will remain open for at least three years under the deals surrounding Digital Domain.
Frankel also slams Hasner for approving the legislation allowing the state to bankroll its portion of Digital Domain — though Hasner said lawmakers were simply asked to approve allowing then-Gov. Charlie Crist to use leftover economic development funds on a secret project.
And Frankel counters the corruption accusations by point to Super PACs that have entered the race on Hasner’s side.
“We don’t know who the donors are; they could be billionaires, they could be corporations,” she said. “We don’t know what their interest is. That’s what’s corrupting politics today, that’s what’s hijacking democracy.”
Hasner and his allies have worked more broadly to paint Frankel as an out-of-touch executive, attacking her for stories of marble bathrooms, rides in police helicopters and exorbitant pay raises. Hasner has pressed Frankel to join him in his pledge to commit to a term limit, decline pay raises and refuse his congressional pension.
“I think you saw a clear example today of somebody who has been an elected official for a long time, and who thinks they’re part of the ruling class and doesn’t live like everybody else does,” he told reporters after the debate.
Frankel responding during debates with promises of her own.
“My pledge is not to privatize Medicare,” she said. “My pledge is not to give the ultra-rich more tax breaks at the expense of paying loans for students. My pledge is not to ever take away the right of choice for women, because I trust women. If you can promise me that and you take that pledge, I’ll consider yours.”
Pressed by reporters after the debate, Frankel said she believed voters should decide how long members of Congress serve, and she declined again to commit to Hasner’s pledge.
“I’m concerned about the pay raises and the pensions of the people who I’m seeking to represent,” she said.
Via Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.