In the Democratic playbook, Alex Sink was going to show her party how to overcome public unhappiness with Obamacare – and its author, President Obama – by winning a tossup congressional district in the biggest battleground state, Florida.
That didn’t happen. Ms. Sink, initially the better-known and better-funded candidate, lost to first-time candidate David Jolly (R), a Washington lobbyist and former aide to the late Rep. Bill Young (R), whose St. Petersburg-centered seat he will now occupy.
Mr. Jolly didn’t win by much: 48.5 percent to Sink’s 46.6 percent, with Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby taking 4.8 percent. But a win is a win, and Democratsare left scrambling for a Plan B as they head into a challenging midterm election season. Retaking control of the House now looks even more unlikely; holding onto the Senate remains the Democrats’ primary imperative.
The question is how the Democrats can retool. The race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District was effectively a referendum on the Affordable Care Act, and it’s hard to see public opinion on the law changing dramatically between now and November. Jolly’s core message was “repeal and replace Obamacare.” Sink’s response was “fix it, don’t repeal it” – a message that Democrats hoped would be the model for all their candidates in competitive races this fall.
“This was a must-win for Democrats in a winnable swing district, and they blew it,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “Sink did not provide a blueprint for survival for skittish Democrats.”
Aside from the Obamacare focus, Jolly also won because Republicans were better able to turn out their base voters – another warning sign for Democrats this fall, when turning out minority, young, and single-women voters will be crucial.
“But Republicans would be unwise to rest on their laurels, because this is the outcome they should have expected,” says Mr. O’Connell. “If Republicans want to maximize their potential electoral gains in 2014, they are going to have to expand their message to include more than just opposition to Obamacare. Republicans are still lacking an optimistic, forward-looking message.”