As early voters are heading to the polls this week, Republican Allen West who is challenging U.S. Rep. Ron Klein finds himself on the defensive about media reports raising questions about his relationship with The Outlaws, a motorcycle club, the U.S. Department of Justice considers a criminal group.
West and Klein are running in one of the most expensive Congressional races in the country to represent a Broward/Palm Beach district that is closely split between Democrats and Republicans.
On Friday, NBC ran a story which quoted a July 1 2009 email from a West supporter to West warning him about who should get invited to a motorcycle campaign ride. "Although everyone is important, I don't think having 300 criminal organization members in leather riding up 95 is the picture Allen wants on CNN,'' the email states.
West responded in an email the same day: "Bikers are America and I would be HONORED to go Wash DC and be their American Congressional Representative. Please, no more references to 'criminal' because I can tell you, they have the utmost respect for me and that which I seek to achieve. I was never more amazed at how members of the Outlaws guarded me during a one hour cell phone radio interview."
On Monday, the local affiliate of NBC ran a story showing West supporters at a fundraiser at a Delray Beach park forcing a Florida Democratic Party staff member from the event. The NBC reporter said that the West supporters "verbally harassed" the videographer and "threats can be heard on the videotape. West supporters force him to get back into his car."
The local NBC story doesn't state that the West supporters, shown in leather vests with patches on them, were members of any gang.
The Florida Democratic Party issued a longer version of their video of the verbal skirmish. The party has pulled its videographer off the campaign trail.
West's campaign manager Josh Grodin sent this response:
"The dems are flat out lying.
The video shows the Democrat stalker at a private event in which the campaign rented a park (public park, but we rented the area) and held a picnic to honor the American veteran. He was asked to leave, and some of the Vietnam vets escorted him out. I don't see Allen in anything except the first few seconds of the video in which he asked the stalker to leave. Again, we paid for a portion of the park to hold a private event, and the stalker wasn't invited.
This is not a biker controversy, but a media and Democrat driven non-issue. Most of those vets shown came in trucks and cars, not bikes. These are Vietnam vets, not gang members. Every person I saw in that video was a vet. Klein does an awful lot of talking about how he supports vets, but talk is cheap. We find it appalling that the Klein camp is disrespecting veterans by making them out to be thugs and bullies. This was an event to honor those who served and sacrificed, and by sending this stalker to disrupt the day shows what little regard Klein has for the men and women who wore the uniform.
Klein owes the veterans in this community a sincere apology and explanation for his lack of respect, but I'm not holding my breath."
On Monday we asked pollster Jim Kane, a close observer of Broward politics, if the biker controversy matter at the polls:
"We start with the premise it's a very close race … it doesn't take a lot to win or lose if it's within two percentage points. Yeah it matters. It doesn't matter a great deal. It may matter enough to move a few hundred people into Klein's camp. Some people will brush it off as one more thing they don't care about one way or another. There will be people it will matter to them. The Outlaws are an infamous
criminal group. It goes to what I call judgment. His judgment here is lacking.''