Observations on the FL-13 Special Election

As predicted earlier by this writer, no matter who won the special election to replace the deceased Bill Young is the Florida 13th District special election, the media would analyze the results to death.  However, it must be kept in mind that special elections are hardly bell weather predictors of things to come,  even in midterm election years.  On the GOP side, solace can be taken in the fact that the district remains in Republican hands.  But, this district has been held by a Republican for the past 58 years as Jay Carney correctly noted.  Furthermore, Republicans generally won their elections here by 20-30 points.  David Jolly won by only two percentage points.  Still, he enters the general election in November with a slight advantage.  Additionally, this district was won by Obama in both 2008 and barely again in 2012 by about 5,000 votes.  Democrats were touting the 13th as indicative of a changing tide in Florida which is considered a swing state.  They fail to cite the point that although the 13th has had a GOP representative for 58 years, the district in presidential elections has voted Republican only once since the 1980s.  Obama carrying the district is hardly groundbreaking news.  If anything, this illustrates that the results were predicated more on local issues than national ones.

Alex Sink, the Democratic loser, tried to run not against Obamacare, but under the Clintonian “mend it, don’t kill it” strategy (Clinton did it with affirmative action).  There is a huge difference between Obamacare and affirmative action.  The ill-effects of Obamacare certainly outnumber those of affirmative action and more visible and visceral.  The number of people harmed by Obamacare in a few short years outnumber those who can claim they were the victims of affirmative action programs.  Sink’s problem was that her “fix” was hardly a fix at all beyond vague, non-specific campaign slogans on her website that would have little practical effect on those harmed by Obamacare.  Regardless, to hear some of the debate rhetoric, Obamacare was the backdrop in this race.  At some points, flood insurance- an issue important in this Florida coastal district- dominated.  If anything, the Obamacare “fix” meme for Democrats means little without specifics.  The problem for them is that the parts that most disturb voters and most in need of “fixing” would essentially gut and rip the heart from Obamacare and run counter to Democratic orthodoxy.  Does a candidate risk running completely from Obamacare and losing party moral and financial support?  One doubts that scenario except in some very extreme cases and certainly not among any Democratic Senatorial incumbent who finds themselves in a vulnerable position.

What makes this an interesting race result is the fact that a few short days ago, some media outlets were commenting on Republican reservations about their candidate.  This was based on polling data which had Sink up by 9 points two short weeks ago.  Furthermore, the Huffington Post was analyzing early voting patterns and results and came to the conclusion that the GOP held no advantages.  Either the analysis was wrong, the numbers were wrong, early voting figures are hardly indicative of final outcomes, or Huffington Post was simply parroting the DCCC.  My guess is it was that last option.  In fact, in light of polls leading into the only poll that really counts- the actual election- the DCCC was gearing up the propaganda spin machine.

Lastly, it needs to be noted that for a special election race, it was particularly expensive coming in at an estimated $12.7 million.  Of that total, $8.7 million was by outside groups.  Still, it needs to be noted that Jolly won this race with a decided monetary and name-recognition disadvantage to Alex Sink who ran for Governor 4 short years ago.  Whether outside money played a role in tipping this election will be the subject of debate.  Most important, however, is that Republicans stole a page from the Democratic playbook and beefed up the GOP get-out-the-vote effort on election day.  As others had noted, had the Democrats found 2,000 extra voters to come out and vote and changed the minds of another 700 voters, we would likely be talking about Representative Sink today.

Instead of using the Florida-13th victory for analysis, a recent poll by NBC/WSJ is perhaps more important.  As some outlets reported, certain numbers jump out that should worry the Democrats more than a special election loss.  The first is Obama’s approval numbers which are the lowest of his incumbency.  In the recent history of this poll, only George W. Bush in 2008 was lower at 38% to Obama’s 41%.  Some may argue that Obama has reached his low point and has nowhere to go but up as we head towards November.  However, it is hard to see where or how he can do so besides his constant campaigning and pontificating that is falling on increasingly deaf ears.  One of the best predictors of midterm outcomes is the presidential approval rating the month before Election Day.  Does anyone really believe he can increase his numbers above 46%?  Equally important, that same poll found some other interesting nuggets.  Despite a 15-hour Democratic talk-a-thon on climate change in the Senate, that issue still ranks considerably below economic/fiscal issues to the electorate and Obama’s numbers on handling the economy mirror his overall ratings- dismal.

To illustrate that the Florida 13th is hardly indicative of midterm trends, the NBC/WSJ poll also found that voters were more apt to vote for the candidate who would solve national rather than local, parochial interests.  Remember that Obamacare- a national issue- was the backdrop in Florida-13.  In this other poll, likely voters are indicating that the opposite dynamics will decide their vote come November.

Another number that pops out is that almost 49% of respondents in this poll stated that they either have reservations about Obama (and by extension, Democrats) or who outright believe reelecting Obama was a mistake.  This is troubling for Democrats and clearly indicative of the fact that Obama very early into his second term is not viewed as a leader which is, quite frankly, validated by his actions or inaction almost daily.

Finally, another poll out of Texas shows the problems Democrats are likely to encounter in that state and should actually also be a warning sign to the GOP.  A recent poll indicates that Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for Governor, is suffering with the Hispanic population in that state.  Texas could be a lesson for Republicans on how to win Hispanic votes, but the fact that a constituency considered to be in the pocket of Democrats finds a Democrat troublesome over a single issue- abortion- should be ringing alarm bells on both sides.  Most notably, Davis’ celebrated, yet ultimately losing filibuster against the Texas abortion law may have won the hearts and dollars of Manhattan liberals, white guilt-ridden Chicago north shore liberals who “make” future black presidents, and Hollywood hypocrites, but not the voters of Texas and certainly not the growing Hispanic population of Texas.  In effect, Davis is a one-trick pony hanging her hat on her increasingly false back story and a single issue- abortion.  My fear is that the GOP will hang their chances on a single issue also- Obamacare- although it is a big one.  There are other areas that need addressing besides Obamacare- education based on parental choice (which would resonate with Hispanics), job creation and true energy independence among other items.

The bottom line is that not too much should be read into the Republican victory in the special election.  Hopefully, if the GOP has learned anything from senatorial elections in 2010 and 2012, it is that the Republican Party is its own worst enemy at times.