Republican David Jolly thanks supporters during a campaign rally Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla.

In Florida's 13th District, Health Care Law in Spotlight

Florida's special election is a preview of things to come.

Republican David Jolly thanks supporters during a campaign rally Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla.

Republican congressional candidate David Jolly, above, and his Democratic opponent Alex Sink are facing off in Florida's 13th congressional district.

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Republican congressional candidates David Jolly and his Democratic opponent Alex Sink have never been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, nor were either of them there to vote for or against the Affordable Care Act in 2010. But if you looked at ads and campaign slogans floating around Florida’s 13th congressional district, voters would think the local candidates had played a major role.

“Alex Sink supports Obamacare even though 300,000 Floridians could lose their health insurance plans because of it,” an ad by the National Republican Congressional Committee stated in January. In a February debate, the candidates sparred over the Affordable Care Act’s impact at home. Sink defended the law, although she admits there are areas where it could be improved, while Jolly has campaigned for a full repeal of the law.

[READ: Voters in Florida Head to Polls to Replace Late Rep. Bill Young in Primary]


As Sink and Jolly face off to replace late Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., their swing-district showdown gives Republicans and Democrats a testing ground to try out television ads, mailers and strategies they could replay in competitive congressional elections around the country in the fall. Outside groups on both sides are also testing the waters and giving voters a preview of the tactics they plan to show in the midterm elections.

“For the Republicans, the whole 2014 strategy is to nationalize everything especially Obamacare,” says Kyle Kondik, a political scientist based at the University of Virginia. “I think that Alex Sink would just as soon talk about other things, but given they are being attacked on Obamacare, her campaign has to respond.”

The most recent polling in the district shows that health care has become closely linked to the contest, with 81 percent of the voters for Sink supporting the health care law and 84 percent of voters for Jolly opposed to Obamacare.

So far, Sink is leading the race overall, according to a Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/WUSF Public Media poll with 42 percent of voters in favor of Sink and 35 percent ready to cast their votes for Jolly. On Election Day, however, turnout will be the biggest determining factor, as Republican voters have traditionally been more active in midterm elections. Another factor is libertarian candidate Lucas Overby, who some conservatives worry could take votes from Jolly.

Democrats need to win 17 seats to take back control of the House of Representatives, a tall order even in years when President Barack Obama’s approval ratings have been strong. In a midterm election, in the president’s second term, most pundits agree that winning that number of seats is highly unlikely.

[READ: Why Florida's 13th District Special Election Between David Jolly and Alex Sink Matters in March]

But winning Florida’s 13 District could get Democrats off to a robust election season start. The district leans slightly in their favor with Obama winning there, albeit slightly, both in 2008 and 2012. Also, Sink leads Jolly in fundraising more than 3 to 1, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

There are certainly other factors at play as well. Sink has taken jabs at Jolly’s past as a K Street lobbyist in Washington, as she hopes to paint her opponent as a political insider. Meanwhile, Jolly’s campaign has gone after Sink’s time as a bank executive and chief financial officer in the state.