In a stunning final special election result from Florida last night, Republican David Jolly, who opponents painted as a Washington lobbyist representing an organization that favors Social Security privatization, upset favored Democratic candidate Alex Sink in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. The campaign’s conclusion carries national implications.
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 healthcare 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.
Jolly won the race 48.5 – 46.6 percent, with 4.8 percent going to Libertarian Party nominee Lucas Overby. The Republican victory margin was 3,456 votes from a huge total of 183,627 ballots cast.
The seat was vacant due to the death of 43-year congressional veteran Bill Young (R) who passed away last October, just days after announcing that he would not seek re-election in 2014.
By all accounts, this is a damaging loss for the Democrats. The entire campaign set-up favored them. They had an ideal candidate in Sink, a widow of just six months who lost a statewide campaign for governor by only one point in a landslide Republican year. The district is trending Democrat and was one of only 16 nationally that voted for President Obama over Mitt Romney while simultaneously electing a Republican congressman. Furthermore, she was well ahead on the fundraising circuit, obtaining over $3 million for the campaign, which was double her victorious opponent’s take.
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 campaign’s determinative issue. Failing to win in a district that is trending Democratic with their best possible candidate could lend credence to a Republican argument that this outcome is a harbinger of election results to come later in the year.
As previously mentioned, turnout was huge, making this the top special election voter participation performance of the seven special US House elections held since January of 2013. In fact, the 183,627 vote total was almost exactly 40,000 larger than the next highest turnout special election district, SC-1, that elected former governor and US representative, Mark Sanford (R). 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 Young scored 66 percent of the vote, 209,256 people voted, just 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, two of which were previously Democrats. The Dems 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.