2 Dems, 3 GOP seek Wexler's congressional seat

Published: Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 7:55 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 7:55 a.m.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the proposed health care overhaul and federal spending are dominating the debate between the two Democrats and three Republicans running in Tuesday's primaries for the congressional seat of former U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, who resigned in January to lead a Middle East think tank.

State Sen. Ted Deutch, who has Wexler's endorsement, and former Broward County Commissioner Ben Graber, also a former state House member, are seeking the Democratic nomination. The Republican candidates are financial planner Joe Budd; Ed Lynch, a contractor; and retired police officer Curt Price, who owns a business that sells safes.

Wexler, of Boca Raton, resigned in January to become president of the nonprofit Center for Middle East Peace & Economic Cooperation, leaving a Democratic seat he comfortably held for seven terms.

The 48-year-old Wexler was a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and backed President Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic primaries. He held great sway with the large Jewish community in District 19, which includes parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, and has more than twice as many registered Democrats than Republican — 234,000 to about 111,000.

Tuesday's winners will meet in a special general election April 13 with that victor serving the last nine months of Wexler's term. The winner will have to run for re-election in November if he wants a full term.

Deutch, an attorney, was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, and former President Bill Clinton recently attended a fundraiser for him in South Florida. He also has the support of Democratic U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings and Ron Klein.

Deutch and his Democratic opponent, Graber, a surgeon, largely agree on many issues, including favoring a health care overhaul, including a public insurance option, federal stimulus spending to help small business and opposition to offshore oil drilling. Deutch, however, has supported Obama's Afghanistan strategy while Graber favors a U.S. troop withdrawal.

"I'm against the escalation in Afghanistan, I'm against the war in Iraq. Until we stop fighting, until we reduce the militarism in this country, we're not going to balance our budget," Graber said at a candidate forum.

The Republican candidates also are similarly aligned in opposing tax increases, gun control and a public option for health insurance.

Budd is promoting his financial services background to help with economic recovery, and freely discusses his own business failures. He moved to Florida from Pennsylvania in 1993 after a failed business venture left him $600,000 in debt.

"Instead of filing bankruptcy, I worked hard and sacrificed to pay it off," Budd says in a campaign ad. "More Floridians are unemployed than ever before and I understand your fears and concerns having lived through it myself."

Price says he is a "Reagan conservative" and portrays himself as a "regular guy" living the American dream.

He was a Fort Lauderdale police officer for more than 20 years before opening a security business.

"I know what it's like to have to balance a budget, make payroll and pay all my bills so that the banks don't foreclose and the lenders don't cut lines of credit," he says on his Web site. "I am gravely concerned by what I see going on in Washington. Spending is out of control. Congress has abdicated its responsibility to hardworking Americans, and it must stop now."

Lynch describes himself as a "lifelong fiscal conservative" who says he wants to give the Hispanic community a "real voice in government." He says he is running for Congress to stop "the waste of taxpayer money, the corruption, the poor treatment of our veterans and the issues of our citizens never truly being addressed by our government officials."

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