Election 2012: Rivera out, Grayson in -- West, Murphy too close to call

Corey Perrine/Staff
Trey Radel delivers a speech for his election Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012 at the Naples Republican Headquarters in Naples, Fla. Speaker of the House John Boehner came to support 19th District Republican Congressional Nominee, Trey Radel, along with Naples City Mayor John Sorey all backing Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in this coming U.S. presidential election. Dozens came out to support the political figures.

Photo by COREY PERRINE // Buy this photo

Corey Perrine/Staff Trey Radel delivers a speech for his election Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012 at the Naples Republican Headquarters in Naples, Fla. Speaker of the House John Boehner came to support 19th District Republican Congressional Nominee, Trey Radel, along with Naples City Mayor John Sorey all backing Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in this coming U.S. presidential election. Dozens came out to support the political figures.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Embattled GOP Rep. David Rivera was sent packing Tuesday, outspoken liberal Alan Grayson won a trip back to Congress after a 2010 defeat, and Rep. Allen West's race to return to Washington remained stubbornly close.

Incumbents cruised to victory in most of the state's 27 seats, and only West's race remained too close to call as midnight neared. Observers across the country were watching District 18 to see if political neophyte Patrick Murphy might pull off a win and test the might of the tea party.

In Miami, Democrat Joe Garcia emerged victorious in his 26th District challenge of Rivera, who is being sent home after one term as a cloud of ethics accusations hovers overhead. Rivera was out-fundraised more than 2-to-1 and saw his district's lines be redrawn in a way seen more favorable to Garcia, but it was the ethics headlines that overshadowed the race.

Grayson got redemption after a bruising loss two years ago, topping lawyer and conservative radio host Todd Long by a big margin in central Florida's District 9. Grayson had a huge fundraising advantage — more than 44 to 1 — over his opponent. He was one of the most vocal partisans on Capitol Hill, perhaps best known for saying Republicans' health care plan amounted to hoping people "die quickly."

In South Florida, former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, a Democrat, trounced Adam Hasner, the former state House majority leader, in District 22. In central Florida, freshman GOP Rep. Daniel Webster survived a tough challenge from popular former Orlando police chief Val Demings. And in the Panhandle, Rep. Steve Southerland, a Republican freshman, turned back Al Lawson, a longtime Democratic state lawmaker and former college basketball star.

Democrats improved their standing in the state's House delegation, with the GOP now holding 17 seats and Democrats with nine. The House breakdown was 19-to-six.

The state has added two seats due to population growth. Both sides had a chance to gain one more seat once the extremely tight West-Murphy battle was decided.

That race, more than any other House contest in Florida, had the attention of party faithful across the country from both sides of the aisle. The two sides had raised nearly $21 million as of Oct. 17, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, and Super PACS supporting the candidates poured in millions more.

It will go down as one of the most expensive House races in history.

With 96 percent of precincts reporting, West held a razor-thin lead over Murphy, with 50.2 percent of the vote. Only 1,431 votes were separating the two men.

West's supporters were holding out hope their candidate would prevail. The state Democratic Party chairman warned the race may be headed for a recount. Murphy was expressing confidence.

"We've got a lot of votes to count, but I still feel good," he told television station WPBF.

West, a former Army lieutenant colonel, has a passionate legion of supporters and an equally passionate opposition. He has elevated his profile with a seemingly unending string of headline-grabbing statements, from charging that scores of congressional Democrats are communists to labeling Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz as "vile" and "despicable," and saying President Barack Obama, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and others should "get the hell out of the United States." Pelosi, during a summertime visit to Florida, pondered what West's political defeat would mean.

"How sweet would it be for the country," she said.

West, 51, moved north to District 18 after redistricting made his old seat an unlikely win. Murphy followed him and has sought to portray the congressman as an extremist who has done little else in Washington than stoke partisan fires with made-for-cable controversy.

West has out-fundraised Murphy more than four-to-one, flooding the district in advertising and seeking to paint the Democrat as an empty-suited rich kid. His most attention-grabbing ad featured Murphy's mugshot from a teenage arrest. Observers saw the race as potentially testing the strength of the tea party.

Incumbent Reps. Jeff Miller, Ander Crenshaw, Corrine Brown, John Mica, Bill Posey, Rich Nugent, Gus Bilirakis, Bill Young, Kathy Castor, Dennis Ross, Vern Buchanan, Tom Rooney, Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen cruised to re-election. Republicans Ted Yoho, Trey Radel and Ron DeSantis will head to Washington as a freshman.

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