Republican David Jolly won Tuesday’s special election for the open seat in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, eking out a victory over Democrat Alex Sink in a hard-fought race that offered both parties the chance to test-drive their political messages ahead of the midterm elections.
Fox News and The Associated Press called the race for Mr. Jolly, a former Washington lobbyist, about an hour after polls closed at 7 p.m.
The victory gives the Republican Party additional ammunition to argue that the political winds have shifted against President Obama since the 2012 election and that public opposition is growing against the Affordable Care Act.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden said the outcome showed that Mr. Jolly’s message on jobs and the economy resonated with voters and that “voters are tired of the devastating policies of this administration.”
“Tonight, one of Nancy Pelosi’s most prized candidates was ultimately brought down because of her unwavering support for Obamacare, and that should be a loud warning for other Democrats running coast to coast,” Mr. Walden said.
With all of the 225 precincts reporting, Mr. Jolly captured 48.4 percent, compared with 46.6 percent for Ms. Sink and almost 5 percent for Lucas Overby, the Libertarian candidate, according to unofficial results posted by the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections.
Mr. Jolly won by just more than 3,400 votes, out of more than 182,000 cast, according to the unofficial results.
“The Florida election is a test case of the power of Obamacare,” said Darrell M. West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution.
“This is an issue that Republicans expect to emphasize in the fall, and Jolly’s victory in a competitive district demonstrates that this continues to be an excellent issue for the GOP,” Mr. West said. “Democrats put a lot of effort into winning this race, and the loss suggests this will be a tough fall for the national party.”
The race was seen as a tossup, though Mr. Obama carried the district twice and Ms. Sink took it in her failed 2010 gubernatorial bid against Republican Rick Scott.
Before the votes were tallied, Ana Navarro, a Republican Party strategist from Florida, warned against putting too much stock in the results.
“The national implications of the results of this race in Florida have grown out of proportion,” Ms. Navarro said. “The spending by both parties turned into a game of chicken, and next thing they knew, they had spent over $10 million on a seat that has to go up for election again in eight months.
“Yes, the national narrative on Obamacare and other policy issues matter,” she said. “And yes, the national spending has played a big role. But the old adage remains true: All politics is local. A lot is decided by the quality of the candidates and the campaigns they run. I think it will tell you more about that than anything else.”
Heading into Tuesday, Democrats needed to flip 17 seats to win control of the House — a tall order, according to Charlie Cook, of the Cook Political Report.
“No matter how you look at it, the House seems out of reach,” Mr. Cook wrote last week. “Republicans appear a bit more likely to gain than to lose seats; it would take a cataclysmic event for Democrats to score the net gain of the 17 seats they need to take the majority.”
Democrats also are defending their Senate majority.
Republicans need to pick up a net of six seats to capture the upper chamber.
The House seat in Florida opened in October with the death of Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who served in Congress for more than four decades. The seat had been considered relatively safe as long as Young held it.
With that as a backdrop, Ms. Sink touted the need for bipartisanship on Capitol Hill and said the health care law should be fixed but not repealed.
Mr. Jolly, who was an aide to Young, countered that the law should be scrapped and tried, with the help of Young’s son, to tie Ms. Sink to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
The national parties and their well-heeled allies, meanwhile, dumped more than $9 million into the race, which led to a blizzard of attacks ads that left many Florida residents counting the days until the race was over.
The race played out in Pinellas County — part of the all-important “I-4 Corridor” that runs from Tampa to Orlando and is home to a deep pool of swing voters who play a key role in statewide races.
The results could bode well for Mr. Scott in his re-election push against Democrat Charlie Crist this fall.
“A Jolly win will reinforce what Republicans already believe — that six years into President Obama’s term, the best way to run and win is to highlight the public’s dissatisfaction with the president and specifically with Obamacare,” said Aubrey Jewett, political science professor at the University of Central Florida.