- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

So much outside money poured into this week’s special election in Florida that the battle in the Tampa-area district felt more like a fight for the presidency than a congressional race.

Republican David W. Jolly won Tuesday amid a flurry of negative attacks ads from both parties, in an election that analysts said is emblematic of the new reality of money in politics.

But the level of spending is unlikely to be repeated across the country in November, when all the House seats are up for election. The deep-pocketed groups that poured almost $10 million into a single Florida contest will have to divide their attention this fall among dozens of competitive House and Senate races.


SEE ALSO: White House: Obamacare didn’t matter in Florida special election


“This race is more of an exception than a rule because it was the only game in town yesterday,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Democrat Alex Sink, the state’s former chief financial officer and the party’s 2010 gubernatorial nominee, raised and spent more money than Mr. Jolly, but he still won by about 2 percentage points, thanks in part to outside groups’ support.

All told, interest groups spent $8.8 million.

The National Republican Congressional Committee led the way with $2.2 million, followed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) with $2.1 million. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce placed third, pouring $1.2 million on the race to boost Mr. Jolly’s bid, and the House Majority PAC, American Action Network, and American Crossroads rounded out the top six outside spenders.

Asked whether the Chamber of Commerce would make similar investments in House races this fall, Blair Holmes, a chamber spokesperson, said, “we don’t ever discuss our strategy or how much we’re spending, but rest assured, we’ll be active.”

Robert Maguire, of the Center for Responsive Politics, said that there has been three times more outside spending than at this same point in the 2010 midterms and “four times more ‘dark money’ in 2014 than we had in the record-breaking cycle of 2012.”

“The data as it now stands suggests more records will be broken before voters go to the polls in November,” Mr. Maguire said.

Mr. Jolly’s victory was largely viewed as a setback for Democrats, as it provided the GOP with more fodder to cast President Obama and the Affordable Care Act in a negative light — when Republicans have the money to convey that message.

“Surely, the amount spent on this one race will not be replicated very often, but what it teaches us is that good policy trumps being outspent,” said Fred Malek, of the American Action Network, which spent almost $473,000 on Mr. Jolly’s behalf. “In this case, Sink had a large spending advantage, but was on the wrong end of the failing and unpopular Affordable Care Act.”

Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for American Crossroads, which spent $471,000 on behalf of Mr. Jolly, said Democrats ran their best recruit against a “relatively weak Republican” in a district that had voted for President Obama twice.

“In short, everything went right for them and they still lost — and this is a bad omen for any Democrat running in 2014,” Mr. Collegio said.

But New York Rep. Steve Israel, the head of the DCCC, downplayed the loss, saying Republicans historically turn out in greater numbers in the district in off-year elections.

Story Continues →