A Very Special Election

Republican candidate David Jolly won yesterday’s special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional district, defeating Democrat Alex Sink in a cash-flush race that had been characterized as a referendum on Obamacare and a bellwether for November:

Sink was a test case for the Democrats’ 2014 women’s economic platform as the party seeks to turn out more women voters who trend Democratic. She also road tested their Obamacare messaging—Sink’s line at its core was “I support the Affordable Care Act but I also support major fixes.” …

After Jolly’s victory, Democrats need to win 17 seats in November to take back the House. Jolly will have to run again this fall to win a full term. No word yet on if Sink will seek a rematch.

Weigel advises against extracting any overarching narrative:

Honestly, having seen both Sink and Jolly in action, [t]hey were both lousy.

Sink wasn’t from the district, which hurt her on the margins. Jolly was slicker than Sink, but ran a pretty transactional campaign about knowing how to pick up Bill Young’s portfolio and start sprinting. It was reminiscent of the campaign Democrat Mark Critz ran to hold the late Rep. John Murtha’s seat, in 2010 — a staffer promising to keep the wheels turning. Some of the outside ads focused not on Obamacare, but on Sink’s record as CFO. And even the Obamacare-centric ads warned voters that the problem with the law was that it would cut Medicare. Not exactly a “repeal Obamacare” campaign there — the US Chamber’s ads, interestingly, didn’t even suggest that the law needed to be repealed. They referred to the “Obamacare mess.”

Kilgore also yawns:

[S]pecial elections rarely have any clear predictive value. All we really know now is that about 180,000 voters (as compared to 329,000 in the district in 2012, and 266,000 in 2010) in a district with a Cook PVI of R+1 gave a Republican a victory by a margin of 1.9% (about 3500 votes), with a Libertarian winning 4%. If you want to try to claim that represents some sort of history-bending or prophetic result, go right ahead, but it’s a bit absurd.

I’m guessing (and we can only guess) that the electorate that showed up was crazy old and mighty pale, but then again, if old white folks are voting Republican at the same levels as they did in 2010, that’s not a good sign for Democrats. Come to think of it, “Midterms Ahead!” is not a good sign for Democrats. But nothing that happened in Florida last night changed the odds in any significant way.

Cillizza reads the result as mildly bad news for Democrats:

This was a race that most political observers expected Sink to win. Jolly was a lobbyist — not exactly the best profession in this political environment — who was decidedly unproven as a candidate. He had to beat back a sitting state representative in a primary that drained his resources to the point where Sink was able to drastically outspend him. And, he did spend the entirety of the race bashing Obamacare, the issue that Republicans insist will be their silver bullet issue in the fall.

Tomasky wonders if Sink didn’t fight hard enough for Obamacare:

Let’s watch how this result affects the Florida gubernatorial race for starters. Democrat Charlie Crist has been defending Obamacare—in terms of accepting the Medicaid money—far more aggressively than Sink did. Crist leads Republican Rick Scott in recent polls, by about seven points. Watch how hard Scott—who actually supported taking the Obamacare-Medicaid money for a short time—hits Crist on this point, and how Crist responds, and how the polls change, if they do. Rather than just getting the vapors from Sink’s loss, this is what Democrats nationally ought to be watching. If Crist’s lead shrinks, then Democrats really will run for the hills.

To Byron York, Sink’s lackluster defense of the ACA illustrates a bigger challenge for Democrats:

Sink’s campaign showed the difficulties of the Democrats’ defense of Obamacare. They have to say they want to fix the program because almost nobody (a bare eight percent in the latest Kaiser Foundation survey) wants to keep the law as is. But to fix the aspects of Obamacare that are imposing new burdens on millions of Americans — higher premiums, higher deductibles, a hugely unpopular mandate, and narrower choices of doctors, hospitals, and prescription drugs — Democrats would have to advocate fundamental changes in the law that they have so far steadfastly refused to accept. Get rid of the individual mandate? To do so would rip the heart out of Obamacare, tantamount to repealing it altogether. Many Democrats would rather lose than do that.