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The second was to unleash the party’s ability to identify and mobilize Democratic base voters and get to them to the polls as they did two years ago.

The first part worked to a degree and may explain why the race seemed winnable. The task was certainly made easier by the unintended help Democrats got from Washington Republicans and the fact that at times, Mr. Jolly actually seemed to be playing into their hands, but it wasn’t enough.

Mr. Jolly was a better candidate than his critics had predicted. He didn’t curl up into a ball amid the attacks: He pummeled Ms. Sink on Obamacare, then talked about alternatives.

He refused to follow the playbook that called for him to spend his campaign days on the defensive, went on the attack and advanced solutions that seemed more realistic to district voters than those of his opponent.

The crucial question, though, is this: Where was the Democratic turnout machine? It’s not enough to dismiss Ms. Sink’s defeat as a result of the fact that Democrats turn out in lower numbers in midterm elections when that’s exactly what their turnout operation was deployed to overcome.

Architects of the system have been bragging for some time that it would counter Democratic lethargy in the off-years.

This race took place in Florida, where the Democrats had successfully deployed paid workers, the products of computer geniuses and old-fashioned work by a huge volunteer operation to identify, woo and deliver the vote just two years ago.

Turnout in the district fell from 344,000 in 2012, when President Obama’s team worked it, to 184,000 this year.

The Obama machine get out the vote operation has morphed into something called the Bannock Street Project, which has budgeted $60 million for 2014 to get out the vote in this fall’s Senate races.

The infrastructure had already been built in Florida, and every Democrat in the country knew the importance of this election, but they couldn’t deliver the few thousand votes they needed to win it.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, meanwhile, has been building an on-the-ground capability to go toe-to-toe with the Democrats. The Jolly race suggests that he is making progress.

While other Washington Republicans were undermining their own candidate, Mr. Priebus worked quietly but persistently to identify and deliver the votes Mr. Jolly needed.

The RNC still has to prove it can duplicate those results on a larger scale, but the real takeaway from the Jolly victory may be that the Republicans are back and ready to play.

David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times.