Campaign Crawlers

Will Alex Sink?

The only congressional race in town winds down.

By 3.7.14

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Tuesday we will know who is to represent the 13th Congressional District of Florida in the U.S. House, at least until November, when we will have to count votes for the same office again. Will voters in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and Largo choose the reasonably conservative Republican David Jolly, or the standard-issue liberal Democrat Alex Sink?

Political handicappers might be tempted to forecast a win for Sink, as an average of the polls taken so far puts her narrowly ahead. When she ran for Florida CFO in 2006 and for governor in 2010, Sink carried the congressional district. And the little hustler from Chicago, now watching HBO and reading Golf Digest at 1600, also carried the increasingly purple district in 2008 and 2012. 

But Jolly supporters need not despair. So far a few more Republicans than Democrats have cast absentee ballots. And Sink is a supporter of Obamacare, which is very unpopular in this senior-rich district. Perhaps most importantly, turn-out is always low in off-year and in special elections. This election is both. It was made necessary by the death in October of Bill Young, who had represented CD13 in the U.S. House for 43 years. Young was very popular, and Jolly worked as his congressional aide and then his personal lawyer.

Historically Republicans have held an advantage in low turn-out elections, though Democrats of late have gotten better at turning out their faithful on Election Day. The barrage of television ads has been particularly intense in this election. Millions in outside money has poured into the district, so voters cannot turn on their televisions without tripping over Jolly, Sink, or some mellifluous voice-over crooning about what a no-account the other guy (gal) is. But even with all these overwrought attempts to influence voters’ choices, the race may go to the side that gets its hard-core supporters to the polls (or to mail in their absentee ballots).

The support lineup for the two candidates is made up of the usual suspects — unions and left ideological groups behind Sink, business and conservative groups backing Jolly. The congressional campaign committees of both parties are doing their usual hyperbolic worst. Political household names have campaigned for the two. Marco Rubio has come to the district to campaign with Jolly. Bill Clinton has made robo-calls for Sink. 

Those who know a bit about the candidates’ histories, and are not relying on the noisy and fanciful TV ads, know that Jolly is center-right in his approach to most things, while Sink is mostly a standard liberal. Some specifics:

Jolly says he favors repeal of Obamacare, which Sink equates in her ads to “letting insurance companies do whatever they want.” He supports a balanced budget amendment, and would make Social Security “more actuarially sound.” Misfortunately, he doesn’t say how he would swing this last item. He says we must “keep our promises” to current Social Security recipients and everyone who is vested in the system, pushing any meaningful reform decades into the future.

Jolly says he opposes drilling for oil in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. He’s not keen on comprehensive immigration reform, at least not of the variety the U.S. Senate lately came up with. He would like to see America’s southern border closed to illegal immigrants. He’s not for further federal gun control laws. He is pro-life. Jolly has bought into the global warming hustle, but has not said what government action is called for to deal with this faux problem.

Sink says we should keep Obamacare, but concedes it has problems that should be fixed. She has been spare on details about what needs to be fixed and how she would like to see it done. She says Social Security should be made more efficient, but does not say what this means or how it could be done. She also opposes oil drilling off Florida’s Gulf coast, but is in favor of more federal gun control laws. She opposes a balanced budget amendment, but says she is a fiscal conservative (a confusing statement as she supports Barrack Obama's government-intensive approach). She is pro-abortion.

So there you have it. A straight-up race between a mostly conservative guy and a mostly liberal gal in a mostly centrist district. The race is probably close enough that it matters where the low single-digit percentage of votes of the Libertarian in the race, one Lucas Overbuy, will be drawn from. The conventional wisdom, with some electoral history to back it up, is that Libertarian candidates take more votes a way from Republicans than from Democrats. But political analysts have of late been announcing a trend among younger voters against the micro-management involved in standard Democratic Party policies. So perhaps Sink’s connection to the micro-manager-in-chief will cost her a few votes as well.

Barring some Palm Beach County style voting cock-up, the results will be in Tuesday night. A big fear among some district voters is that the results will be so close we’ll have the same race with the same cast again in the fall. My message to these folks is that your fear is reasonable, but even if this race has a fall sequel it’s not likely to be as intense, or of as much interest to outside parties, as it won’t be the only race in town then.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.