The Florida special election had the potential to display Democrats are capable of gains in the 2014 midterm elections — or at least of avoiding a disastrous midterm cycle.
Democrats had the perceived candidate advantage in Florida’s 13th district — they put a former gubernatorial candidate, Alex Sink, against former lobbyist and Republican David Jolly. And Democrats had the money — Sink out-raised Jolly, and outside groups poured in money in an election that cost more than $US11 million.
What Democrats got instead was a warning — from purple states to red states they will be trying to defend in November, that it won’t be easy. Jolly beat Sink by about 2 percentage points in a race called about 50 minutes after polls closed in the district.
“Dems should not try to spin this loss,” Paul Begala, the Democratic political consultant and former adviser to President Bill Clinton, wrote on Twitter. We have to redouble our efforts for 2014. Too much at stake.”
Democrats did try to spin the loss — as one showing Democrats could compete in a Republican district. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pointed to the fact the district had been held by the late Bill Young, a Republican, since 1971. (President Barack Obama carried the district in both 2008 and 2012, however.)
“Ultimately, the overwhelmingly Republican composition of the special election electorate — expected to be 13 points more Republican than Democratic — paired with nearly $US5 million in spending from 11 Republican groups made for a far steeper challenge than any midterm battleground district will be in November, including in FL-13,” the DCCC said in a memo.
That spin wasn’t convincing to some Democrats, like David Axelrod, the former adviser to President Barack Obama. He explained why he thought Democrats lost on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Wednesday. Opposition to the Affordable Care Act, he said, “motivated the Republican base,” which doesn’t bode well for November.
The question, then, is whether Democrats can do the same with their base, one that doesn’t typically turn out in high numbers in midterm elections.
“We didn’t do it in 2010. If we don’t do it in 2014, it’s going to be a very difficult year,” he said.
Another bad sign for Democrats — the special election was held in Florida, a purple state. The premier elections in 2014 will come in the battle for Senate control — if Republicans swing six Senate seats currently in Democratic hands, they will take back the Senate.
There are seven seats up for grabs in traditionally red-leaning states this November — West Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, South Dakota, Alaska, Montana, and Arkansas.
“Many vulnerable Senate Democrats are competing on more Republican turf and carrying more direct Obamacare baggage than Alex Sink was,” Tim Miller, the executive director at the GOP research outfit America Rising, told Business Insider in an email.
“The fact that she couldn’t win should be very concerning for the Begich, Pryor, Hagan, Landrieu et. al camps.”
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