LOS ANGELES, March 12, 2014 — Republican David Jolly won a special election to the U.S. House in Florida yesterday, taking the seat held by Republican C.W. Bill Young until his death last fall. This was considered an excellent opportunity for a Democrat to take that seat, but Jolly’s campaign featured ads tying Democrat Alex Sink to Obamacare, a connection that proved toxic for Sink.
Democrats looking for a ray of optimism from the Florida race as they head into the 2014 elections found themselves simply shredded. Whenever a political party loses an election, they offer a positive spin and a brave face, but the Democrats know that 2014 is shaping up to be a nightmare for them.
This election is a reminder of the 1994 election season. Then, a tossup special election that Democrats had every chance of winning became the first trickle in a GOP tidal wave several months later.
This year, Democrats thought they had a good chance against Jolly, who calls for the repeal of Obamacare. They hoped that Sink, who narrowly lost the 2010 Florida governor’s race to Rick Scott, would win with her appeal to change and reform the law, not scrap it.
Democrats will try hard to explain that their glass is half full, but none of their excuses are believable. More importantly, none of them should be believable.
Democrats will say that this is a Republican seat, held by Young for 40 years, and convince themselves that all the GOP did was hold serve. But Young was a moderate, and his district is a swing district; both sides treated it as a bellwether. Tampa is part of the critical I-4 Corridor that both parties fight over to the last voter. Whoever wins the area from Tampa to Orlando wins Florida.
Democrats may claim they had a flawed candidate, as they did when Scott Brown shocked the Massachusetts establishment by defeating Martha Coakley for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. Coakley was a bad candidate; Sink was the best the Democrats had to offer, a moderate Democrat with wide statewide name recognition.
Democrats could lash out at the Koch Brothers and the GOP money machine. The problem is that the very wealthy Sink spent three times the amount that Jolly did. Outside groups helped Republicans close the gap, but the Democratic candidate spent more money overall.
Democrats will repeat the late Tip O’Neill maxim that all politics is local, and that frustration with President Obama had nothing to do with this race. That argument is farcical. Both parties nationalized this race and made it a referendum on their strategy of the 2014 elections.
Jolly focused like a laser against the Affordable Care Act. His entire campaign was centered around opposition to the disastrous law. Sink offered the war on women, climate change, income inequality, and every other liberal tactic to distract from Obamacare. In 2012, Obama’s personal likability allowed weapons of mass distraction to carry the day. Aiding him was the fact that the most troublesome aspects of Obamacare had yet to take effect.
Now Obamacare is, as Democrats keep reminding us, settled law.
Democrats will ignore the talk of 2014 as 1994 redux, but they do so at their own peril. There are some eerie similarities. In both election cycles, the president in power was told to stay away from campaigns to avoid dragging his own party down. Both presidents forced an unpopular law on the people only to face a voter backlash. In 1994, it was Bill Clinton’s anti-gun legislation that cost Democrats control of the House after 40 years. The law ended up doing more harm than good, and expired in 2004. Clinton threw away his congressional majority for nothing. In 2014, Obamacare is the new Brady Law in terms of popularity.
In 1994, Republicans won a special election in Kentucky by morphing the Democratic candidate into Clinton. In 2014, Clinton will try to help another Democrat in Kentucky, Alison Grimes. Yet Jolly’s victory shows that the most popular living politician in the Democratic Party is still not strong enough to overcome the twin liabilities of Obama and Obamacare.
The biggest twisting of the facts will be the claim that Democrats lost a close election. While Jolly defeated sink by just under 2 percent of the vote, a Libertarian candidate won nearly 5 percent of the vote. Any honest political observer will acknowledge that Libertarian candidates siphon most of their votes from Republicans in the same way Green Party candidates take the bulk of their votes from Democrats. No one who would vote for a Libertarian is likely to support Obamacare. Even with the gift of a spoiler, the Democrats could not win this race in this political climate.
The liberal media narrative will be that Republicans should not get cocky. Nobody in politics should be cocky. Arrogance has hurt the Obama administration dearly. The real narrative removes emotion and replaces it with cold, hard numbers. The Democrats are in deep trouble in 2014, and they now know this more than ever. The issue in 2014 is Obamacare, in the same way the Iraq War dominated in 2006. Back then Republicans controlled everything, and they took the blame.
Democrats broke the healthcare system. They own Obamacare. Had it succeeded, they would be bragging about it. It failed, and they are running for the hills. As Alex Sink knows and every other Democrat in a tough race will soon find out, this is one year where liberals can run, but they cannot hide.