There can be no doubt that President Obama and his big government agenda took one on the chin last night from a congressional district and state that he carried in both 2008 and 2012.
Portraying opposition to Obamacare as his central campaign theme, Republican David Jolly, repeatedly spurned as a lobbyist who represents an organization that wants to privatize Social Security, sunk favored candidate Alex Sink (D) in a Florida special congressional election. His 49-47 percent victory AP Election Results, which was stunning for reasons to be explained, became a referendum on Obamacare and could well be a harbinger of results to come in the regular election later this year.
Ms. Sink, a widow of just over a year who came within one point of being elected governor in the Republican landslide year of 2010, should have easily won this congressional campaign. After all, the Democrats were crowing that they scored a major coup when she agreed to enter the special election contest, and it appeared that they had certainly done so.
In this Nov. 23, 2013, file photo Republican David Jolly thanks supporters during a campaign rally in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla. Jolly is a candidate in the GOP primary for a special election to succeed the late Republican Rep. Bill Young, who died last month. Obamacare is on the ballot in a big way in a competitive House race in Florida that offers a preview of the nationwide campaign for Congress this fall. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius, File)
Contrasting the candidates, it’s hard to conceive of the Democrats recruiting a better standard bearer, while even a National Republican Congressional Committee leaker was found disparaging Jolly for a poorly run campaign just three days before last night’s election. Additionally, the district is trending Democratic – and has been for the better part of a decade – and, to a person, analysts believed the western Tampa Bay peninsula 13th District would fall to the Democrats once the late Rep. Bill Young (R) was no longer on the ballot. Mr. Young, originally elected in 1970, was the longest-serving Republican in the House before he passed away in October.
The Affordable Care Act was front and center throughout the contest, with Jolly touting his opposition to the program and Sink relying on a catch phrase of “keeping what’s right [with the health care program] and fixing what’s wrong." Her argument, before a Sunshine State congressional district with the sixth largest segmentation of people (in Florida) over 65 years of age (22.8 percent), apparently fell upon largely disbelieving ears.
By all accounts, this loss cannot be understated for the Democrats.
[sharequote align="center"]By all accounts, this loss cannot be understated for the Democrats. [/sharequote]
The entire campaign set-up favored them. As mentioned above, they had an ideal candidate in Sink, the district is one of only 16 nationally that voted for President Obama over Mitt Romney while simultaneously electing a Republican congressman, and Ms. Sink was well ahead on the fundraising circuit, obtaining more than $3 million for her campaign in just a matter of weeks, double the amount of her victorious opponent.
Though Sink and her outside allies tried to swing the discussion to Medicare and Social Security, they failed to do so and Obamacare became the determinative issue.
To make the Jolly victory even more legitimate and significant, voter turnout was huge.
The 13th District performed as the top voter participation special election of the seven U.S. House contests held since January 2013. n fact, the 183,627-vote total was almost exactly 40,000 larger than the next highest turnout special election district, South Carolina’s 1st, which elected former Governor and Representative Mark Sanford (R).
Poll volunteer Dan Moran holds the door open for voters entering precinct 133 at the Bede Episcopal Church in St. Petersburg, Fla., Tuesday, March 11, 2014. President Barack Obama's health care overhaul is getting its first test ahead of the 2014 midterm elections in the Tampa-area House district election between candidates Alex Sink and David Jolly, Tuesday. (AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, Scott Keeler)
Not counting the Florida race in the overall total, last night’s turnout more than doubled the average for the other six races (81,905) since the 2012 election closed. During the last midterm (2010) in this Pinellas County district, a campaign where Mr. Young scored 66 percent of the vote, 209,256 people voted, only 26,000 more than the number participating last night.
With the Jolly victory, the House now stands at 233 Republicans and 199 Democrats with three vacancies U.S. House Clerk, two of which were previously Democratic. The Dems badly missed a critical conversion opportunity that would have lowered the net number of seats needed to secure the majority to 16. The result underscores that the Republicans are better positioned to gain seats in the 2014 regular election than are their Democratic counterparts.
But, the important take-away from last night’s result is that it was President Obama who sunk Alex Sink, because he proved to be the anchor around her neck.
Congratulations, Congressman Jolly.
Jim Ellis is a professional election analyst who has worked in national campaign politics and grassroots issue advocacy since 1978. He currently writes and speaks as a member of the PRIsm Information Network.
Jeffrey Schmidt is a 30-year political and public affairs veteran who specializes in grassroots and grasstops projects and strategic communications.
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