Washington Bureau

03.11.14

Jolly Night for GOP as Dems Sink in Crucial Special Election

Republican David Jolly won a crucial special election for House of Representatives Tuesday night in a Florida swing district which Barack Obama won twice.

So much for Speaker Pelosi in 2015.

In a crucial special election in Florida's 13th Congressional District on Tuesday, Democrat Alex Sink lost narrowly to Republican David Jolly by a margin of 48 to 46 in a swing congressional district that Barack Obama won twice. (Libertarian Lucas Overby finished with just below 5% of the vote).

Sink, the last Democrat to be elected statewide in Florida wasn't able to overcome a nationalized campaign mounted by Jolly, a former lobbyist, that focused on the issues with the implementation of Obamacare in a Florida district dominated by seniors. While Jolly's campaign for the seat, which had been held for over 40 years by moderate Republican C.W. Bill Young, was plagued by lackluster fundraising and heavily criticized by national Republicans, the strong national disapproval for the President was able to carry him to victory. 

While Democrats were facing a very unfavorable playing field for taking back the House in 2014, this swing district, comprising most of Pinellas County, Florida in and around St. Petersburg, was one they absolutely needed to win to have a shot. It's now likely impossible for Democrats to pick enough seats in November to even have a chance of regaining the House of Representatives.

The race also bodes ill for Democrats nationally as it shows that their candidates are vulnerable to GOP messaging focused on Obamacare. In particular, this bodes ill for Charlie Crist, the presumptive Democratic nominee for Governor in Florida and his bid to unseat incumbent Republican Rick Scott.

Both parties tried to spin the race. Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), chair of the DCCC, praised Sink's effort in what he described as an uphill battle. In a statement, he said Sink "came closer to victory in a historically Republican district than any Democrat has in decades. Democrats will fight for FL-13 in the midterm, when the electorate is far less heavily tilted toward Republicans." In contrast, Republicans were crowing. RNC chair Reince Priebus effused in a statement, saying that "despite being heavily outspent by Democrats, [Jolly] won in a district that President Obama carried in the 2012 election. His victory shows that voters are looking for representatives who will fight to end the disaster of ObamaCare."

Of course, special elections aren't determinative of what will happen in November. The general election is still almost eight months away and a lot can happen over that time. However, these results in the swingiest district in the swing state of Florida are a clear sign that, unless something changes, Democrats are in big trouble this fall.