BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — It's fair to say Adam Hasner has a thick book of opposition research in his heated U.S. House race. Hasner, who is running against former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, has an unusual history with his opponent — his mother used to be her campaign manager.
Hasner, a charismatic former Florida House majority leader and son of two Democrats, and Frankel, a feisty former public defender and mother of an Iraqi war veteran, are battling in a newly drawn coastal district that stretches from Boca Raton to Fort Lauderdale.
Tea party favorite U.S. Rep. Allen West abandoned that post to seek re-election further north after redistricting changed District 22 from a toss-up to one that tilts Democratic.
Hasner, 42, has tried to cast himself as a moderate who is able to work across the aisle. He has a "Democrats for Hasner" coalition and boasts about bipartisan bills that he supported in the state Legislature, including an anti-hazing law and environmental protection bills.
He makes a point of blaming both parties for Washington's failures, balancing his well-polished rhetoric with an easy approachability and almost boy-next-door presence.
But Frankel, 64, says he's "changed his stripes" to appeal to more GOP voters, pointing to a comment he made at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando where Hasner bragged that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio described him as "the most partisan Republican in Tallahassee."
"If he was elected to Congress he would be a young gun. He would line up behind Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor and all that extreme partisanship and rhetoric. This is what he knows," said Frankel, who is known for speaking bluntly and isn't afraid of negative campaigning.
Hasner brushes it off.
"Our country was founded on partisanship. Just because someone's partisan doesn't mean they can't work to get things done," he said.
The race hasn't gotten the national attention it did when West ran two years ago and some were surprised when Hasner made a bid for a race where he would be the underdog.
At last count, Frankel had a narrow fundraising edge with $3.2 million to Hasner's $3.1 million.
"Hasner was very up and coming and to play sort of the role of Republicans are going to try to make a race for this is a little surprising for him," said Kevin Wagner, a Florida Atlantic University associate political science professor.
"I think Hasner has made an effort to suggest he's an atypical politician and that's generally how you want to run in a district in where your party is not in the majority," Wagner said.
Hasner stresses the need to stop finger pointing, relying on the metaphor that families have to balance their checkbooks and Washington should be required to do the same.
"I'm not running for Congress blaming the problems of our country on the other political party. Both parties have created the mess we're in," he is fond of saying.
But he then quickly launches into a speech that falls along party lines. Medicare is broken, the deficit is crippling the country and regulations are strangling small businesses. He favors lowering the corporate income tax rate and developing a domestic energy policy that encourages more oil and natural gas exploration.
Hasner wants to leave Medicare as is for those currently receiving benefits but wants to give people now 55 or younger the option of continuing with traditional Medicare or taking vouchers that could be used to buy private health care insurance.
That stance could be unpopular in a district filled with retirees, but Hasner brushes it off saying Frankel's "scare tactics may win an election today but it's not going to chance the mathematical reality that Medicare is going insolvent in the next decade."
Frankel, who was the first Democratic female minority leader in the Florida House, has capitalized on the issue. She warns seniors in several mail fliers: "You earned your Medicare. Why Does Adam Hasner Want to Take it Away?" She doesn't support privatizing the program, now or in the future.
Hasner fired back with a flier about Frankel's infamous trip on a police helicopter to attend a party during her time as mayor and points out the city was investigated by the FBI for handing out city contracts in exchange for gifts and money.
Frankel says small businesses flourished and crime dipped while she was mayor. While in the Legislature, the abortion-rights advocate says she championed tough child abuse legislation and helped get insurance companies to cover mammograms. She wants to stimulate the economy by investing in roads and other infrastructure, give tax breaks to companies that keep jobs in the U.S., reduce the deficit "in a balanced way" and find a path to citizenship for more immigrants.
"I have a record of getting things done. When you push the envelope, which I do, of course you're going to have critics," she said.