Florida is a notoriously purple state, and the 13th Congressional District mirrors the state’s battleground status. Pundits have argued that tonight’s special election will measure how much Obama’s low popularity numbers will affect vulnerable Senate Democrats in 2014. Specifically, the election will test the viability of Obamacare as a campaign talking point.
On the Democratic front, Florida’s former chief financial officer and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink has vocally supported the Affordable Care Act, calling it an “exciting prospect.”
Republican David Jolly, a former lobbyist in Washington, has focused his campaign on the negative effects of Obamacare. With additional help from the NRCC, Jolly has launched ads pinning down Sink as an advocate of the unpopular legislation.
While Obamacare has certainly been a major topic, there are two reasons why tonight’s race is incomparable to the November Senate elections.
For one, Sink was not in office to cast an actual vote in favor of the bill; there aren’t enough sound bytes of her taking tough pro-Obamacare stances. Because she never voted for the bill, her middle ground approach to work with Republicans to improve Obamacare isn’t as repellant of a position.
More importantly, among the seven states that may determine the Senate majority, three already lean red. The remaining four, Arkansas, Alaska, North Carolina, and Louisiana, are swing states only in the sense that their incumbent Democrats are not holding very secure seats. In 2012, Mitt Romney carried all seven states. Instead, the Senate elections in November will depend on whether the unpopularity of Obamacare, and the Obama presidency in general, will be enough to accomplish the task of unseating a long-serving incumbent. Both name recognition and fundraising networks have arguably kept these red-state Democratic incumbents in office. Florida’s 13th is not on the same stage.
A win for the GOP tonight would reveal more about Florida’s future standing as a red state than it would foreshadow Republican or Democratic success in the upcoming Senate elections.
There’s a lot of uncertainty about tonight’s race, thanks to a lack of polling. The most recent poll, taken last weekend by the Democrat-leaning but occasionally reliable Public Policy Polling has Sink leading 48-45. But one thing is for certain—as Politico asserts: “No matter the outcome, each party will try to frame it in its favor.”
And I’ll be the first to frame it. If Jolly ends up losing the race to Sink, then let Democrats convince themselves that Obamacare is not as vulnerable an issue as polls convey. The best a Republican can hope for is that Senators Pryor, Begich, Hagan, and Landrieu believe that aligning with Obamacare is politically beneficial.