The Spectacle Blog

Dana Milbank Doesn’t Know What a ‘Flip-Flop’ Is

By on 3.13.14 | 1:05PM

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank is accusing NRCC Chairman Greg Walden of flip-flopping on the clout of David Jolly's recent Florida election win.

Prior to Jolly's win, Walden said:

Whether we win it or lose it, the special elections aren't too predictive for either side going forward. If there's any advantage of a special election, it's that you can test messages, and you can test strategies, and you can test sort of your theories on voter turnout and I.D.

The morning after Election Day, Walden said:

Tonight, 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.

There’s no contradiction between the two analyses. Milbank fails to capture Walden's subtle point. The Florida election can be beneficial to Republicans without definitely determining future GOP success in the midterm elections. Walden originally stated that special elections "can test messages [and] strategies." What happens: Jolly campaigns against a very unpopular health care bill and, despite being outspent, wins, providing test results on Obamacare's potential to sway elections. The messaging worked: Campaigning against Obamacare is now evidently stronger than Republicans initially assumed.

But although one campaign talking point—even a very strong one at that—has been bolstered, the GOP hasn’t automatically seized the Senate. Republicans must walk away with a net-six win in the Senate this year. In three red states, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana, the incumbent Democrat will not be seeking reelection. But in another four, Louisiana, Alaska, North Carolina, and Arkansas, Republicans will face Democratic incumbents, and in some cases, like Mary Landrieu, long-serving senators. Republicans will need to win at least three seats currently held by Democrats. Even if bluer states like Colorado and New Hampshire are in play, they will serve the same incumbent problem. As I argued on Tuesday, unseating an incumbent is by no means impossible, but a challenge that has be to considered when extrapolating Florida’s election results to the battle to control the Senate.

Imagine if the election results were reversed: Republican David Jolly loses to Democrat Alex Sink. If the election were in fact a bellwether, would the results have proven that Obamacare’s unpopularity isn’t as strong of an election-indicator as was expected? Not necessarily. Obama’s numbers continue to drop, especially in battleground states where they matter most. And Sink wasn’t in office to vote for Obamacare, whereas vulnerable incumbents were and did.

Florida’s election was undoubtedly good news, but Republicans still need to keep working if they want to reclaim the Senate 236 days from now.

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