Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., said at a town-hall meeting that up to 81 Democrats in Congress are secret Communists and members of the Communist Party. He offered no names.

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WASHINGTON — Another reason Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., won’t be the Republican Party’s vice-presidential nominee:

At a town-hall meeting in Florida late Tuesday, the freshman congressman suggested that up to 81 Democrats in Congress are secret members of the Communist Party.

When asked about Marxists in “the American legislature,” some in the crowd jeered, but West took a different approach.

“No, it’s a good question,” he said, adding: “I believe there is about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party.”

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He did not provide names but said he was talking about the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group of 75 of the more liberal Democrats in the House, including Rep. Jim McDermott of Seattle, and one senator.

He said those members of Congress are also members of the Communist Party, even though there is no evidence to support that.

West campaign manager Tim Edson said some Democratic members of Congress have traveled to Communist Cuba in recent years (so have Republicans).

He also noted that certain Democratic members have praised Cuban President Fidel Castro. (For the record, Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush and former California congresswoman Diane Watson, both members of the Progressive Caucus, have praised Castro.)

“He stands by the comments,” Edson said. “Call them what you want; they’re clearly people who oppose capitalism and free markets and individual economic freedom.”

Pressed on whether those members are true Communists, Edson said the label isn’t the point.

“We can quibble about the terminology used to describe them, but it’s clear,” he said. “Whatever you call people that oppose capitalism and free markets and individual economic freedom — maybe it’s ‘socialist,’ maybe it’s ‘Communist’ — but that’s the point the congressman was making, and he stands by the words.”

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said West is trying to turn back the clock to the days of Sen. Joe McCarthy, R-Wis., and the so-called “Red Scare” of the 1950s.

“Allen West is denigrating the millions of Americans who voted to elect Congressional Progressive Caucus members, and he is ignoring the oath they took to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution, just like he did,” said caucus co-Chairmen Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn.

Another caucus member, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., pointed to a more recent member of Congress who accused his colleagues of being communists: former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., now in federal prison after a corruption conviction.

“Mr. West is in really very extraordinary company here,” DeFazio said. “He should get in touch with Duke in prison, and they can chat about this conspiracy that’s going on.”

The caucus, founded in 1991, includes 75 House members and one senator and describes its goals as economic fairness, civil rights, environmental protection, energy independence and global security.

The Palm Beach Post first reported the congressman’s comments.

During the Cold War, McCarthy, a Republican senator from Wisconsin, claimed that communists and Soviet spies had burrowed their way into the federal government. He never produced the documentation to back up his claims.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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