Democrats and Republicans will find out Tuesday who is winning the proxy war over Obamacare when voters head to the polls in Florida’s special election.
The hard-fought contest in Florida’s 13th Congressional District to replace the late Bill Young. R.-Fla., has evolved into an early testing ground for both the Democratic and Republican messages heading into the 2014 midterm elections. Democrat Alex Sink, Florida's former chief financial officer, and Republican David Jolly, a lobbyist and former staffer for Young, have spent $1.6 million and $858,000 respectively on the congressional race, but that doesn’t include the nearly $9 million that has been spent by outside groups trying to influence a race that has taken on national significance.
Neither Sink nor Jolly have a voting record on health care, but they each have staked out a position that reflects the party at large. For Sink, Obamacare is an improvement over the country’s former health care system, though she acknowledges fixes remain necessary. For Jolly, the entire program needs to be dismantled and replaced.
Democrats appear to have the most to win Tuesday. If the party can secure a victory in a key Florida swing district, which encompasses Pinellas County on the state’s western coast, it could change the current narrative that the Democrats are destined to lose big in the midterm elections in November 2014 as the president’s approval rating sags and voters remain wary of the party’s signature Affordable Care Act.
Polling shows the race is still a toss up. A Monday survey from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling showed Sink with a slight lead over Jolly as she polled 48 percent of the vote compared to Jolly’s 45 percent. Yet, the wild card in this primary is Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby who polls show is siphoning 6 percent of the vote. Republicans have worried the third-party candidate could steal votes away from Jolly, prompting Libertarian favorite Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to send out a robo call endorsement in the district on his behalf.
Mail-in voting could give voters an early idea of who will win. So far 117,000 people have voted by mail. Democrats are counting on Sink to win a majority of those votes if she is going to win, but the polls in Florida will not close until 7 p.m. If Jolly loses the race, the Republican Party is likely to blame their candidate who made a host of mistakes, according to a Friday Politico story. Among them, criticizing a National Republican Congressional Committee ad buy totaling $500,000 to a reporter and campaigning alongside his girlfriend who is more than a decade younger not long after his divorce.
Special elections have often been used as a marker for how a party might perform in the midterm election, but it is not always a good indicator of success. For example, Democrats won a contested special election in Pennsylvania in 2010 only to go on and lose 63 seats in the House of Representatives that fall.
The results of Florida’s primary can only be extrapolated so far and the reach may only extend to the borders of Florida’s 13th Congressional District.