Florida: What Happened — ‘Amazing Grace?’ — Can’t Blame Turnout

Photograph by Chris Zuppa/Tampa Bay Times/Zuma Press

David Jolly is interviewed after winning former congressman C.W. “Bill” Young’s seat at on March 11, 2014.

Updated with White House reaction at 2:50 pm EDT

That was a “big win” in Florida for the Republicans.

So says House Speaker John Boehner, whose caucus hasn’t grown as a result of Republican David Jolly’s election to the Tampa Bay-area House seat occupied for four decades by the late C.W. “Bill” Young.

The party’s confidence in the polling power of opposition to “Obamcare” is another question — that has swelled.

Consider: In a potentially “swing district” that President Barack Obama carried by a little more than one percentage point — a few chads better than the margin of victory he claimed at re-election in Florida statewide — a former lobbyist tagged as such during an election campaign that cost both sides and an army of outside combatants more than $12 million defeated one of the Florida Democratic Party’s best candidates by two percentage points.

Alex Sink, the loser, also lost a governor’s race to Florida Gov. Rick Scott by a narrow margin in 2010, yet she had been the state’s elected chief financial officer — and in 2010, and again in this year’s special election, she was deemed the best the party had to offer, a statewide figure going local. Scott poured tens of millions of his own money into that 2010 race. This year, the Democratic Party’s apparent best prospect is a former Republican governor who lost a Senate race as an independent: Charlie Crist.

Never mind that the Democratic Party in Florida appears in shambles today, its bench cleared. It is counting on a former Republican to reclaim the governor’s mansion. The state Legislature and huge congressional delegation from the nation’s third-most populous state are overwhelmingly Republican.

If Sink hadn’t been a supporter of the Affordable Care Act — though she acknowledged it can use some improvement — it’s possible that she could have been a contender. This is a state whose governor has rejected federal funding for expanded Medicaid coverage of the lower-income uninsured, making their purchases of Obamacare more expensive than they would be if Florida were willing to play ball. What’s the matter with Florida?

There are any number of potential reasons for the outcome of the contest in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

We like this take for starters:

“Jolly’s win belongs more to the outside groups that rallied to his side than it does to him,” writes Sean Sullivan at The Fix.

Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux was on to this early on:

“Jolly, a 41-year-old former lobbyist who raised less than half of Sink’s $2.5 million through Feb. 19, got help from outside groups that spent more than $5 million, mostly on ads slamming Sink over her support of Obama’s health-care law,” Giroux and Tallahassee-based Toluse Olorunnipa write this morning.

“Sink and Democratic groups supporting her spent more than $5 million as they blanketed the district with television ads, mail pieces and radio spots painting Jolly as a Washington lobbyist with extreme views. Democrats seized on Jolly’s support for restricting abortion, rejecting immigration reform and advocating for U.S. military intervention in Syria.”

The White House was pushing a soft pedal today:

`I am not going to delve too deep into election analysis” while any fair assessment of the Affordable Care Act’s impact for the Republican Party was “at best… a draw,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.  He maintained that the ACA “was not the decisive factor.”

Republicans, for their part, are eagerly seizing on a favorable story line.

Rep. Steve Southerland, the Panhandle politician who rallied the House Republican caucus in the singing of ``Amazing Grace” as they shut down the federal government last fall, says: “America is at a crossroads, and tonight’s victory is a clear indication that Floridians have had enough of the out-of-touch agenda being pushed by the president, Nancy Pelosi, and their allies on the campaign trail… Floridians don’t want a representative who is going to fight tooth and nail to preserve Obamacare, increase taxes, and make it more difficult for hard-working families to get ahead.”

The fact that this is straight from the National Republican Congressional Committee’s script is merely a sign that the party likes the way it looks in Florida 13 and wants to take it on the road.

Rep. Greg Walden, the Oregon Republican running the party’s House campaigns this year, issued this statement as chairman of the NRCC last night: “One of Nancy Pelosi’s most prized candidates was ultimately brought down because of her unwavering support for Obamacare, and that should be a loud warning for other Democrats running coast to coast.”

Then there is this possibility:

Still, it’s going to be difficult to blame voter turnout here.  Most of the election was decided before Election Day: More than 125,000 people voted early — including 53,000 Republicans and 48,000 Democrats. In all, 184,278 votes were cast, according to the Pinellas County supervisor of elections. That is 40 percent of the 460,600 registered voters in the district — not too shabby for a special election.

The potential intensity among voters motivated to make a statement about Obamacare could actually be part of that “environment” that made this hard for Sink and tough for Democrats attempting to hold on to the Senate this year.

The Bloomberg National Poll out today shows “rebounding” job approval for Obama — 48 percent. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll portrays a different picture, stagnation — 41 percent. The White House maintains its own tracking puts the president somewhere in the middle. (Whoever is right here, you gotta love our graphics.)

“Republicans on Tuesday night won the closely watched special congressional election in Florida, helping to answer the question we asked before the race: What’s the more potent force — an individual campaign or the overall environment?” NBC’s Chuck Todd amd Mark Murray write. “That answer from last night: the environment. And just how bad does the environment look for Democrats less than eight months before November’s midterm elections? Well, it’s not pretty, according to our brand-new national NBC/WSJ poll. President Obama’s job-approval rating has dropped to a low point of 41%, never a good position for the party controlling the White House.”

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