In Miami, Representative David Rivera, a Republican, is seeking re-election amid accusations of political skulduggery during the primary campaign and a criminal investigation into a separate matter.
Farther north, on the Treasure Coast, Representative Allen West and his Democratic challenger, Patrick Murphy, are thumping each other with television advertisements that portray Mr. Murphy as an irresponsible party boy (complete with a 2003 mug shot after a South Beach bar brawl) and Mr. West as a man with a tarnished military career.
“Nasty is the new normal in Florida,” said Dan Gelber, a former state senator and Democratic leader in the State Capitol who is not inclined to shirk from the state’s political tussles. “Politics here is very gutterlike. It’s like a very bad reality TV show that still gets very high ratings.”
Because elections are so tight and a small number of votes can decide races, each voter is highly coveted and doggedly targeted.
“It’s a true swing state, and a close state ignites people’s passions,” said Roger Stone, a longtime Republican consultant who lives in Miami Beach. Add to that the state’s mix of immigrants, many from countries well practiced in tainted politics, and New Yorkers, who are accustomed to delighting in political rumbles, and the result is not altogether unpredictable.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in South Florida.
Since he was elected to Congress in 2010, Mr. Rivera, one of three Republican Cuban-American House members from Miami, has been dogged by allegations of wrongdoing while he was a state legislator. On Wednesday he was charged by the Florida Commission on Ethics with 11 counts of filing fraudulent financial disclosure forms, misusing campaign funds and concealing a $1 million consulting contract with a Miami gambling business while he served in the State House.
Mr. Rivera, who was Senator Marco Rubio’s roommate when both were state representatives, called the charges false in a statement, but he is also confronting another series of damaging accusations.
The Miami Herald has reported that Mr. Rivera ran a puppet candidate in the Democratic primary against his Democratic challenger, Joe Garcia, who lost to Mr. Rivera in 2010. The candidate, Justin Lamar Sternad, a part-time hotel worker with no political experience, has told the F.B.I. that Mr. Rivera was secretly behind his race, The Herald reported. The newspaper said Mr. Rivera funneled as much as $43,000 to Mr. Sternad, who paid cash this summer for expensive campaign fliers attacking Mr. Garcia. A federal grand jury is investigating.
One witness in the case — a political operative who describes herself on Twitter as a “Republican Political Guru and Conservative Bad Girl!” — vanished hours before she was scheduled to talk to prosecutors. Mr. Rivera, who declined through his lawyer to comment, has said he has done nothing wrong and knows of no investigation.
“We are not going to respond to unfounded rumors and innuendo,” said his lawyer, Michael R. Band. But, he added, “it’s like a Carl Hiaasen novel.”
Analysts say Mr. Garcia stands a good chance of winning next month. And if so, he would be a new breed of Cuban-American in the House: a Democrat who supports travel by Americans to Cuba.
Meanwhile, his party has stepped back from Mr. Rivera.
“I know the Republicans are putting enormous pressure on him to drop out,” Mr. Stone said, adding that Mr. Rubio has been asked to intervene.
But Mr. Rivera, who was named the most corrupt member of Congress this year by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a nonpartisan group in Washington, has refused to back down. Recently, he ran a television advertisement saying, inaccurately, that Mr. Garcia was “under investigation for breaking the law.”
Last week, Mr. Garcia counterpunched, starting a Web site,
davidriverafacts.com, delineating the accusations. An accompanying video warns: “The more we know, the worse it gets.”
Caustic races are nothing new to Alan Grayson, a brash, blunt Democrat from Orlando who was elected to the House in 2008, only to lose two years later to Daniel Webster, a Republican.
Known for provocation, Mr. Grayson described the Republican Party’s health care plan in 2009 as “die quickly.” He once compared former Vice President Dick Cheney to a vampire. And in 2010, he ran a television advertisement calling Mr. Webster “Taliban Daniel Webster” — Taliban Dan, for short — for his views on women and marriage, and his connection to a Christian group. The spot was widely criticized.
“I’m saying what a lot of other people are thinking and nobody else is saying,” Mr. Grayson said. “People should be allowed to see a doctor when they’re sick. If you work, you ought to have a pension, insurance, vacation and sick leave, and your taxes should be lower than Mitt Romney’s.”
“What the heck has happened?” he asked.
But Mr. Grayson, 54, a native New Yorker who put himself through Harvard as a janitor and night watchman, is back, running in a new Democratic-friendly district against Todd Long, a Tea Party activist who has lost two previous House races.
“This time we don’t have five and a half million dollars in vicious personal ads against me,” Mr. Grayson said, referring to the 2010 race as “an onslaught of sewer money.”
So far, Mr. Grayson has faced no ads paid for by Mr. Long. He has outraised Mr. Long by 55 to 1 and has run weeks of advertisements that, among other things, blasted Mr. Long for wanting to “dismantle” Social Security. Mr. Long backs a plan to privatize the program for people under 55 and raise the retirement age to 72.
Amid mentions of Aristophanes and hexadecimals on his online posts, Mr. Grayson also calls his opponent a “miscreant,” and does not shy away from poking at Mr. Long’s conviction for drunken driving and his divorce.
Without much money, Mr. Long, a Christian conservative who has said that he is also running against the Republican establishment, has little recourse but to lob his own word bombs.
“He’s a bully,” Mr. Long said. “His record is complete lies and meanness.”
A debate last month between the two candidates immediately deteriorated.
“The first thing I want you to know is if I go to Congress, I’m not going to be a character assassin,” Mr. Long said right away. “I’m not going to try to divide the nation, call Democrats names.”
“You know this is nonsense,” Mr. Grayson interjected.
“Don’t shout at me, Mr. Grayson,” Mr. Long said seconds later.
And so it went. Mr. Grayson called Mr. Long a liar. Mr. Long, angry at being interrupted, snapped at Mr. Grayson, “Hey, you can shut up.”
The atmosphere is no less heated in the tight race between Mr. West, an outspoken conservative, and Mr. Murphy, his 29-year-old Democratic opponent, who is fighting back hard in his first political race. Both are running in a new district that encompasses Martin County, St. Lucie County and a part of Palm Beach County.
In late September, Mr. West, a former Army lieutenant colonel and battalion commander, released a scathing television advertisement that juxtaposed his day on Feb. 16, 2003 (preparing his men for war in Iraq) with Mr. Murphy’s (getting into a drunken bar fight and “verbally assaulting a police officer”).
While Mr. Murphy was arrested that night for disorderly intoxication and possessing a fake driver’s license, the case was later dropped, and he has called it “the biggest mistake of my life.”
But Mr. Murphy retaliated a week later, telling voters in an ad that Mr. West was forced to leave the military. The military did charge Mr. West with aggravated assault in 2003 for using his gun to coerce an Iraqi during an interrogation, but it then decided against court-martialing him. Mr. West was fined $5,000 and relieved of his command.
The final Army report said Mr. West “performed illegal acts, merited court-martial, faced 11 years in prison,’ ” the ad says. Mr. West called the add “a smear.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 26, 2012