Written by Matthew Vadum
The defeat of an Obamacare-loving Democrat in a closely watched special election in the Tampa area ought to give comfort to Republicans aiming to control both houses of Congress after the upcoming elections in November.
On Tuesday, Republican David W. Jolly had mainstream journalists across the nation popping Prozac as he polled 48.52 percent in the special election in Florida’s 13th congressional district, triumphing over Democrat Alex Sink who garnered 46.64 percent and over Libertarian Lucas Overby who received 4.84 percent of the votes, according to still-unofficial results.
No matter what they say publicly, Sink’s loss is terrifying to careerist Democrats. President Obama’s party desperately wants to talk about something other than Obamacare now that it’s becoming increasingly clear that they have no chance of retaking the House and are very likely to lose control of the Senate.
The FL-13 race was the Democrats’ to lose. “This wasn’t some random battle; the deck was stacked for Democrats, yet prevailing political fundamentals pushed the W into the Republican column,” notes Townhall political editor Guy Benson.
As even left-leaning Politico observes, the Democratic Party is in chaos right now:
A few Democrats are advocating a drastic rhetorical shift to the left, by criticizing their own party for not going far enough when it passed the law in 2010. Other Democrats plan to sharply criticize the Affordable Care Act when running for re-election. Many plan to stick to the simple message that Obamacare is flawed and needs to be fixed —a tactic that plainly didn’t work for Sink. Taken together, the Democratic Party is heading into an already tough election year divided — instead of united — on the very issue Republicans plan to make central to their campaigns.
Going into the FL-13 vote three days ago, Democrats already had a seemingly impossible task ahead as they lost control of the narrative.
Before Election Day this week, Republicans characterized the vote as a referendum on Obamacare, a program that Democrats across America have been scrambling to distance themselves from. Jolly promised to press for repeal. Sink, who had high name recognition with voters after running for governor in 2010, defended Obamacare in principle but said parts of the program needed to be fixed.
Sink also came across as callous and out-of-touch to left-wingers when she offered a one-percenter’s rationale for supporting so-called comprehensive immigration reform.
The reforms are important to America because “we have a lot of employers over on the beaches that rely upon workers and especially in this high-growth environment, where are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping?” she said, channeling her inner Ebenezer Scrooge. “We don’t need to put those employers in a position of hiring undocumented and illegal workers.”
Pundit Stuart Rothenberg previously declared the contest to be a must-win for President Obama’s party.
“Since most nonpartisan handicappers and analysts have for years expected this seat to go Democratic when it became open, a Republican victory would likely say something about the national political environment and the inclination of district voters to send a message of dissatisfaction about the president,” Rothenberg said. “And that possibility should worry the White House.”
Although a Republican replacing another Republican as a result of a special election shouldn’t necessarily be headline news, both parties “nationalized” the race and poured vast resources into it. When the GOP defined the contest as a referendum on Obamacare, the mainstream media did not object because in their cavernous echo chambers Obamacare is considered to be a great idea that is only running into trouble because of flawed implementation. Many journalists saw Sink as a shoo-in because they viewed the prospect of Obamacare repeal as an electoral non-starter.
As the often sensible Noah Rothman of Mediate opined, this was “[a] real-world test case … in which a Democratic politician running in a swing district, a candidate who did not have a vote for the [Affordable Care Act] to defend, ran against her Republican opponent’s pro-repeal stance. She lost.”
Sink was sunk, Rothman wrote, despite the PR shortcomings of her ultimately successful opponent. Rothman continued:
If there was a singular issue on which the special election in Florida’s 13th turned, it was the debate over the value of the repeal of the [Affordable Care Act]. What’s more, the pro-repeal message won in spite of the flawed nature of the messenger. Sink lost to a Republican who should have logically underperformed a generic Republican. Jolly, a 41-year-old lobbyist and Washington insider in the midst of a divorce (who is presently dating a 27-year-old former coworker of Jolly’s) represented the perfect candidate from a Democratic perspective. In theory, he should have been easily framed, polarized, and made toxic. It did not turn out that way.
Democrats apparently underestimated just how toxic Obamacare, which is causing suffering from coast to coast, was (and continues to be) to ordinary Americans.
And after the torpedoing of Sink, for whom the professional Left had such high hopes, Democratic office holders are in denial.
White House press secretary Jay Carney dismissed out of hand the suggestion that the hated Affordable Care Act doomed the Democratic standard-bearer in Florida.
“Any fair assessment of the role that the debate about the Affordable Care Act played reaches the conclusion that, at best for the Republicans, it was a draw,” Carney sniffed. “And I think that’s evidenced by the fact that the Republican candidate himself didn’t even mention it in his victory speech.”
But the day before the vote a nervous White House political director, David Simas, reportedly called journalists to feed them the don’t-you-even-think-of-blaming-Obamacare party line in advance in case Sink failed to win. The official narrative formulated on Monday declared that the health care law wasn’t a big factor in the special election.
With Jolly’s victory, it is even more certain that Obamacare will be a huge issue in congressional elections in November. Republican candidates may even draw lessons from the race and build on the things that Jolly’s campaign did right.
Meanwhile, Democratic National Committee boss Debbie Wasserman Schultz, herself a Florida congresswoman, has managed to convince herself that the results in FL-13 somehow constitute some kind of moral victory for the Democratic Party.
“Republican special interest groups poured in millions to hold onto a Republican congressional district that they’ve comfortably held for nearly 60 years,” Wasserman Schultz said in a rushed reaction statement.
“Tonight, Republicans fell short of their normal margin in this district because the agenda they are offering voters has a singular focus – that a majority of voters oppose – repealing the Affordable Care Act that would return us to the same old broken health care system.”
While Wasserman Schultz’s cute little trivia point that Democrats managed to shave about 10 percentage points off Republican Young’s 2012 vote tally happens to be true, it really doesn’t matter. It is an apples-to-oranges comparison.
The special election was called to replace Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, the longest serving Republican in the House of Representatives, who died in October at age 82. Young was a cardinal, Capitol Hill slang for an especially powerful lawmaker who chairs a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. (Young had previously been chairman of the full committee for six years.) From his defense subcommittee perch, he was in a position to hand out favors and bring home the bacon for his Gulf Coast district with greater ease than the typical federal lawmaker, making him virtually invincible in elections. Whenever he faced the voters, he rarely dipped below 60 percent in the popular vote.
But after representing the 10th congressional district for 20 years, he was redistricted last election cycle into a less reliably Republican district. The 13th congressional district that he was elected to represent in 2012 is a swing district, one that went for President Obama in both 2008 and 2012.
So of course the GOP vote percentage was bound to go down, especially with a new Republican candidate not all that familiar to the voters. Like a magical curse, the perks and power of incumbency — media attention, voter goodwill, franking privileges — all vanish when the incumbent dies. If a Republican candidate other than the unusually interesting Jolly had run, there is good chance that person would have beat Sink by more than Jolly’s two percentage point margin.
But wait — there’s even more bad news for Democrats. According to NBC News:
Barack Obama and his Democratic Party are facing difficult political headwinds less than eight months before November’s midterm elections, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Obama’s job-approval rating has dropped to a low point of 41 percent, never a good position for the party controlling the White House; By a 33 percent to 24 percent margin, Americans say their vote will be to signal opposition to the president rather than to signal support, though 41 percent say their vote will have nothing to do about Obama; Forty-eight percent of voters say they’re less likely to vote for a candidate who’s a solid supporter of the Obama administration, versus 26 percent who say they’re more likely to vote for that candidate[.]
Obamacare is shaping up to be a decisive — if not the decisive issue — in the midterm elections that are now just under eight months away.
If FL-13 is a bona fide bellwether, maybe there is hope for America after all.
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Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative reporter and the author of the recently published book, "Subversion Inc.: How Obama's ACORN Red Shirts Are Still Terrorizing and Ripping Off American Taxpayers.