Lessons from Florida: Obamacare is Not the Silver Bullet that Republicans Thought They Had

In a Tuesday Special Election in Florida, Republicans managed to hold on to a Republican House seat when David Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink by a slim 48-46 margin. The campaign in Florida's 13th district was for the right to complete the term of the late Rep. Bill Young, who died last October.

Obamacare as a political toolEven before the race was called Tuesday night, the National Republican Congressional Committee was telling anyone who would listen that "Obamacare" was going to devastate Democratic candidates throughout the country. We've been keeping an eye on the FL-13 election for some time now, primarily because Colorado Republicans like Congressman Cory Gardner have openly expressed their belief that voter disgust with Obamacare will carry them into office in November. If the FL-13 results are any indication of how things may play out elsewhere, Gardner and friends may want to make sure they have a 'Plan B' should Obamacare stop gaining traction. Here's why:

In 2012, Rep. Young was re-elected with 58% of the vote; Jolly was a longtime staffer for Young, yet he wasn't able to crack 50% on Tuesday. Keeping what should have been a safe House seat cost Republicans and their supporters a tremendous sum of money. As our friend Chris Cillizza at "The Fix" reported on Tuesday:

$12.7 million. [Pols emphasis]

That's how much Democrat Alex Sink, Republican David Jolly and a slew of outside organizations have spent — so far — on Tuesday's special election to replace the late Bill Young (R) in Florida's 13th district, according to calculations by the Center for Public Integrity's Michael Beckel. And, the bulk of that money — $8.7 million or 68.5 percent — has been spent not by the candidates but rather by the ever-growing universe of outside organizations on both sides of the aisle. [Pols emphasis]

That's a stunning number — particularly for a seat that could, no matter who wins tonight, be lost in six months time in the November midterms.

Remember, that $12.7 million number was just the amount of spending that had been reported as of Tuesday — it's very likely that the final tally could end up closer to $20 million. In other words, Republicans and their allies will have spent in the range of $10 million to ultimately win a single Congressional seat by a 2 point margin in which the GOP candidate failed to even reach 50%.

That "Obamacare" theme is one expensive silver bullet.

We're not trying to say here that "Obamacare" is not going to be a problem for Democratic candidates such as Sen. Mark Udall. It certainly has its uses in negative ads, but we do think the issue has been overhyped and overpromised to a lot of Republican candidates as their golden ticket to Washington D.C. (or in Gardner's case…to a different suite of offices). Polls show that voters aren't particularly happy with Obamacare, and as a result, they are also unhappy with President Obama in general; in fact, you could say that the GOP's "Obamacare" branding effort has worked, but perhaps a little too well for 2014. Who do you think voters are going to blame for Obamacare? Probably the guy whose name is part of the message.

The lesson from Tuesday's special election in Florida is that it is hard to blame "Obamacare" on someone whose first or last name isn't Obama. If "Obamacare" was such a powerful weapon against a Democratic candidate, then why did Republicans need to spend millions and millions of dollars in order to barely defeat a Democratic opponent in a House race? Because it's just not that simple. No average voter has been casually referring to the Affordable Care Act as "Sinkcare" in Florida, just like nobody is calling it "Udallcare" here in Colorado.

Congressman Gardner may try to ride "Obamacare" through November, but it may run out of gas before the end of the summer.

23 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. horseshit GOP front grouphorseshit GOP front group says:

    Andrew Carnegie keeps calling it Udallcare, so you are technically correct that nobody is calling it Udallcare here in Colorado.

  2. I don't think we should spin this our way. FL-13 is not, contrary to the Guvs' assertion, a "safe" Republican seat – it's an R+1 district that Obama narrowly won. But neither do Republicans get to spin it their way.

    Jolly outspent Sink $5+ million to ~$3.7million, and Democrats didn't turn out in their base districts (again). Those two factors alone account for the win.

    Also, my impression is that Sink should retire from the field as a two-time campaign loser in two eminently winnable races. She's not activating the base, and she's not wooing Republicans or enough independents to seal the deal. She is considering a rematch in November, and iven the short turnaround I have to admit that she's probably in the strongest spot to make the challenge; also, the general election cycle – with the governorship up for grabs – will probably offer her a better chance to take the seat. We'll see, but she may just not be the right candidate…

  3. dwyer says:

    The republican candidate is a tea party member and republican higher ups evidently did not expect him to win.  I am disappointed but not surprised to see this incredibly sad spin, by Coloradopols,  on a race that democrats expected to win.  The way to look at this loss is to analyze why the dems lost, not why the republicans did not win by a larger margin.  There was a libertarian candidate that took votes from Jolly.  A win is a win. A win is not a loss.  The repubs won, the dems lost.

  4. Not Dame Edna says:

    I hate to agree with AC but it appears that on this he looks to be right. And to claim Sink was outspent by Jolly, Politifacts (a site run by the Tampa Bay Times) shows that as mostly false. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2014/mar/14/democratic-national-committee/democrats-say-alex-sink-got-outspent-republican-di/

    I have to say that my fellow Floridians are sheep and are more than willing to believe any lie about the President because it fits their racist narrative. The R's successfully tied Sink to a (successful in my view) policy hated because it was Obamacare even though she never voted for it. It is important for Colorado spectators to understand that Florida did not expand Medicaid like we did here so the very poor have not benefitted and can be fed the Obamacare is the devil because in Florida, it didn't help them. Additionally, Florida did not set up a state exchange and citizens there had to use the (in the beginning) shaky Federal exchange. So there is a lot more anti Obamacare ammunition there then we have here. So I am not sure if we can conclude certain defeat for Udall here by tying him to Obamacare.

    It remains to be seen if R's can continue with the Obamacare is the devil strategy as more Americans continue to benefit from it and carry them to November midterm victories. I don't think it will help Gov. Rick Scott of Florida. He seems to universally hated down there.

    • The overall expenditures had Jolly out in front in the money game.

      I'm sorry, but a 1-2 point win for the Republican in an R+1 district is well within any margin of error.

      To AC's notion that Sink is more well-known… Yes, she's more well-known – she was tarnished in the race against Rick Scott (family scandal stuff), and she's been going around talking about the need to cut Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid benefits in order to shore up the budget. Is it any wonder Democrats were lackluster about her in an election that determines one House seat for a period of 10 months?

      I think if Obamacare was a real negative (as opposed to a negatively portrayed uncertainty), this race would have been a blowout. Democrats need to spend more effort promoting Obamacare's positive aspects – and, as has been the case perennially, they need to ATTACK GOP candidates for misleading the public for their own (and their friends/donors') private gain. Democrats are still acting like they have a working partner on the other side of the aisle…

  5. Not Dame Edna says:

    The mandate is the part that makes this work. And is constitutionally allowed per SCOTUS.

    Try again AC.

    • Andrew Carnegie says:

      NDE, Omama just gave everyone a hardship out from the mandate.  The Dem Senators need to take on changes in Obamacare and act like they are in charge instead of Obama.

      The law is not working, never was, never will.  The Supremes said the mandate was a tax, for it to be effective it will become a penalty and that would be unconstitutional.  Better to start from scratch than endure the water torture for Dems that this will become.

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