Whoever wins Tuesday night’s special election in Florida’s 13th District will only be guaranteed that seat for the next eight months. But if some party strategists and political prognosticators are correct, the result of Tuesday night’s election will serve as an important bellwether for November’s midterm election and a clear indication of whether or not Democrats have an Obamacare problem on their hands.
The race in the Florida 13th pits Republican David Jolly, a former lobbyist and congressional aide, against Democrat Alex Sink, the former Chief Financial Officer of the state of Florida. The two are vying to replace the late Bill Young, a Republican who died last October.
Both parties have devoted heavy resources into the race, and outside groups have poured in money to to the district. If Sink wins, Democratic strategists say it’s a sign their party can be competitive across the country in November, and rumours of a disastrous midterm election cycle for the Democrats have been greatly exaggerated. If Jolly wins, Republicans say, it should be taken as a sign Obamacare could doom Democrats to lose ground in Congress. The race is also an important preview of Florida’s upcoming governor’s race, which is set to be one of the more hotly-contested campaigns of 2014.
“If anyone tells you they know how this race is going to play out,” one GOP strategist said, “they’re pulling your chain.”
One thing is certain — the race is a clear sign special interests are set for a monstrous spending campaign in 2014. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, the parties and outside groups have spent almost $US9 million on this election. That doesn’t include the amount of money the candidates have spent on their own campaigns.
To both parties, the Florida 13th is the definition of a “swing” district. Though its congressional seat had been held by the Republican Young since 1971, President Barack Obama won it narrowly in 2008 and 2012. So far, it looks like it could go either way — a new Public Policy Polling survey released Monday found Sink with a narrow, 3-point lead on Jolly.
National Republicans expending their cash and energy attempting to cast the Florida 13th a referendum on Obamacare. Some of what has worked, one party insider told Business Insider, is touting the “half-true” claims 300,000 Floridians will lose coverage under some of the health-care law’s new rules. Republicans have also found success in using cuts to Medicare as a messaging tool.
“I think we’ve found, in general, that voters are frustrated with what’s happening in Washington,” the Republican strategist told Business Insider. “And that benefits us, because Democrats control Washington.”
But if Sink wins Tuesday night, it would represent the second consecutive competitive election where Republicans’ strategy of making a the race referendum on Obamacare failed. The last such race came in November, before the law’s implementation, when Democrat Terry McAuliffe prevailed over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor’s race.
If Republicans lose, they may again blame it on their candidate — some in the party are already starting to grumble about Jolly. For their part, Democrats will take it as a sign their messaging can work in competitive districts.
“Given how Obamacare has played out and been cast as a negative for Democrats and the fact that this race is still a toss up is an interesting point of the story,” one Democratic operative told Business Insider.
Sink’s strategy has served largely as a preview of how Democrats will look to combat anti-Obamacare attacks later this fall. Generally, she has stressed the law is helping Floridians while also pledging to work on improving it if she wins. For example, Sink has said she’s open to Republican ideas to alter the “employer mandate” that requires companies to provide health insurance for employees who work more than 30 hours a week.
At the same time, Sink has blasted Jolly for promoting “full repeal” of the law and threatening to “take us back” to a time when pre-existing conditions could be used as a precursor to insurance companies denying coverage. Still, Sink’s strategy can only carry other Democrats so far — after all, she did not vote for the law, something other Democrats will have to defend.
One Democratic operative told Business Insider that the party is looking at anything from a close victory to a close loss as a win for the party heading into November. The operative said if Sink loses by 1.5 to 2 points, it would signal it’s not going to be a “wave election” for Republicans this November. The same would be true in a close loss.
Either way, a close call would be encouraging for Democrats, since public polling has shown the district’s electorate leans between 8 and 13 points toward Republicans.
“If we’re in an R-plus-8 or R-plus-9 electorate and within a point or two, there’s nothing to be ashamed about,” the operative said.
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