Now that the smoke has cleared, it’s time to look at the lessons to be learned from the Republican victory in last week’s 13th Congressional District special election in Florida.
David Jolly’s victory shocked the political world, which expected his better-known and better-financed Democratic opponent to win.
It was especially shocking to national Democrats, who viewed the race as their Spanish Civil War, testing the themes they plan to use nationwide this fall.
Since the results were announced fairly early last Tuesday evening, we have been told that special elections do or don’t matter, that Obamacare was or wasn’t a deciding factor in the race, and that Mr. Jolly’s victory can or cannot be traced to the role of what Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid thinks of as evil “outside groups.”
Lesson One: Republicans might consider sticking with the candidates the voters of the district select as their nominee — even if they might have preferred someone else. Rally around your nominee and don’t try to throw your candidate under the bus in the middle of his or her campaign.
Washington’s Republican establishment included few Jolly fans. Republican leaders, including House Speaker John A. Boehner, worked to find another candidate before the filing deadline, but failed, and Mr. Jolly eventually emerged from his party’s primary against lesser challengers bloodied and broke.
The National Republican Congressional Committee then jumped in, but at the staff level, the candidate was derided as incompetent and a sure loser.
To outsiders, the Washington “pros” seemed to have a point. The 41-year-old former Hill staffer is a lobbyist who spent most of his time in Washington, was in the midst of a divorce, and was dating a young lady 14 years his junior who had worked for him.
He was also hurt by the quasi-public way in which Washington Republicans who should have been on his team were cutting him up behind his back, making it hard for him to raise money.
Lesson Two: The fact that he won anyway unleashed spinmeisters desperate to explain or explain away the results. Democrats who had optimistically predicted a victory for their candidate, Alex Sink, rushed to explain that the district is not nearly as Democrat-friendly as mistakenly assumed, and that in spite of the final vote, Ms. Sink’s support for Obamacare helped rather than hurt her.
Peter Hart, one of the Democrats’ most respected pollsters, suggested that the data showed that her support of the party’s strategy of arguing in favor of “mending rather than ending” Obamacare was a plus for Ms. Sink, who lost for other reasons.
Maybe. Other factors are always at play, and yes, turnout in midterm elections favor Republicans. In the final days of the campaign, though, Mr. Jolly gained support by focusing on his opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
Anyone who dismisses the damage to Democrats trying to deal with public opposition to Obamacare has spent too much time in marijuana-friendly Colorado and not enough time talking to normal voters in Florida and elsewhere.
The Democrats relied on a strategy that worked at the national level in 2012 as well as in numerous Senate and congressional races.
The first part of that strategy was to demonize the Republican candidate as corrupt, completely out of touch, or in favor of programs and policies that would hurt voters.