Mast-Perkins congressional race key for both political parties

Randy Perkins is a mega-rich business owner who profits from the misery of natural disasters, overcharging governments along the way.

Sure, Brian Mast’s war-time sacrifice — the former U.S. Army bomb technician lost both legs in Afghanistan — was heroic. But politically he’s really a far-right extremist on the order of former congressman Allen West and radio host Mark Levin.

And Carla Spalding is…who is Carla Spalding?

Watch the television ads and track the messaging of the various campaigns to represent District 18 in the U.S. House of Representatives, and that’s pretty much what you get.

The race for District 18 has been far more animated than most congressional elections. There are a couple reasons for that.

First, it’s an actual race, unlike the vast majority of congressional elections, where the incumbent is a virtual lock because the district has been gerrymandered to favor a candidate of one political party. And the second reason the race is so heated is because the stakes are high.

Democrats are hoping Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump takes such a beating on Election Day that the wake of the wave against him drowns down-ballot GOP candidacies. If Trump is trounced, and if there is an anti-GOP wave, Democrats have a small chance to wrest back control of the House.

That makes every competitive congressional race even more important.

In terms of voter registrations, District 18, which encompasses Martin, St. Lucie and northern Palm Beach counties, tilts slightly toward the GOP, fueling Republican hopes that Mast can snatch the seat back. (U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, the Jupiter Democrat who took the seat from conservative firebrand Allen West in 2012, is instead running for the U.S. Senate.)

Federal Election Commission reports show the National Republican Congressional Committee has spent $1.9 million to help Mast while the Conservative Leadership Fund has dropped another $1.8 million into Mast’s coffers.

Perkins hasn’t needed help from the Democratic Party’s funding apparatus; he put $5.8 million of his own money into the race.

How Perkins made that money has been a target of pro-Mast attack ads.

A Republican super PAC paid for a 30-second ad telling viewers Perkins’ disaster relief company got a $900 million contract to help with Hurricane Katrina cleanup. The ad also said “accusations of over-charging led to a congressional hearing” and that Perkins’ firm “was also charged with grossly overcharging a local school district.”

A contentious TCPalm editorial board meeting, where Perkins repeatedly interrupted Mast and asked him how his war-time service makes him capable of solving policy problems, also found its way into an ad.

“Taunting a double amputee veteran?” an incredulous voice intones in the ad. “Questioning his capabilities? Randy Perkins. His idea of service is serving himself.”

The fireworks from that editorial board meeting also spilled over to the District 18 debate, when a journalist asked Perkins if he owes Mast an apology.

Perkins did not apologize to Mast, who said that was fine by him.

“I’m a big boy,” he said. “I don’t need an apology from Randy Perkins.”

Perkins’ commercials and campaign rhetoric haven’t exactly been lullabies to Mast.

He’s called Mast “an extremist” and “a radical.”

He has attempted to link Mast to fellow conservative West. And, with Trump’s political fate far less rosy that it appeared a few weeks ago, Perkins is trying to shackle Mast to him, too.

“He stands as we are here tonight with Donald Trump,” Perkins said during the debate.

That prompted some squirming from Mast, who blasted comments from Trump and the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.

“This is not an easy decision for anybody,” Mast said of the upcoming presidential election.

Perkins persisted.

“This is about character,” Perkins said. “This is about your moral compass.”

After the debate, Mast attempted to create some distance between himself and Trump, noting that “at this time” and “if the election were held today” he would vote for the GOP nominee.

Mast’s fate could rest on whether voters punish him for backing a presidential candidate increasingly viewed as odious or reward him for his battlefield heroism.

Perkins has hammered away at Mast’s most obvious strength as a candidate — the argument that he has fought hard and sacrificed for his country and would do the same in Congress. The businessman has said Mast doesn’t love the country more than he does and noted that, “With all respect to Brian, Washington, D.C. is not a battlefield.”

The two sat next to each other during that editorial board meeting and sparred so aggressively no one could get in word. It provided the perfect opportunity for Spalding, a U.S. Navy veteran and registered nurse running with no party affiliation.

“This is an example of why I’m choosing not to be a Democrat or a Republican,” she said.

Certainly, frustration with both parties is running high, but party affiliation means money. And money means campaign ads and yard signs and other ways of reaching voters.

Spalding was not invited to the District 18 debate because she did not fare well enough in polling to meet the organizer’s invitation criteria.

Her web site says she would fight for better health care access for veterans, promote economic growth and pursue policies to help children and seniors.

“I am deeply concerned that the emphasis of this country is not about the people,” she says on her site. “The parties remain divided and as we know, a house divided cannot stand. How can anything be accomplished if we continue in the same direction and do not forge a new path?”

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