Tuesday's special House election between Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly is hailed as a preview of November coming attractions. One lesson that will likely be trumpeted: Obamacare is not a silver bullet for Republicans.
When Republican Rep. Bill Young died last October, it set up Tuesday's contest, pitting Sink, the former CFO of the state of Florida, against Jolly, former counsel general for Young. We tend to make a lot out of special elections, in part because they allow both political parties and the entire news media to focus on one thing instead of a thousand. But the added political tension over Obamacare — and both campaigns' willingness to advocate a position on the health care law — has turned the race into what Slate's Dave Weigel calls "Obamacare's Ground Zero."
"If Obamacare could break Sink, it could break anyone," Weigel writes. "If she can defend the law, Democrats in tougher races will start to believe they can, too." Weigel interviews voters on all sides: a young woman whose plan was cancelled, a woman in the Medicaid gap, an older man who is pleased that the law gives him added flexibility. Florida's enrollment numbers are higher than most states, Weigel notes, making the law relatively successful. Charlie Crist, running for his old job (governor) with a new party (Democratic), praised Obamacare over the weekend on CNN: "I think it’s been great. I know the rollout was difficult; I’m sure the president feels that way too."
It looks as though it may make sense for Democrats to start linking Sink to Obamacare more directly. Cook Political Report put the race as a toss-up; polling has bounced around, thanks in part to a Libertarian candidate that's pulling under 10 percent of support. But there are reasons Sink can be optimistic. The Miami Herald's Marc Caputo notes that early voting appears to favor Sink. "[R]ight now the data indicate it’s Democrat Alex Sink’s race to lose," Caputo writes, adding: "But not by much."
What's more, Jolly's campaign has apparently been something of a mess. Politico's Alex Isenstadt reports on tension between the national party and the Jolly camp. "[A] half-dozen Washington Republicans have described Jolly’s campaign against Democrat Alex Sink as a Keystone Cops operation," Isenstadt writes, "marked by inept fundraising, top advisers stationed hundreds of miles away from the district in the state capital and the poor optics of a just-divorced, 41-year-old candidate accompanied on the campaign trail by a girlfriend 14 years his junior." After Jolly criticized the party for an anti-Sink ad it was running, one party official responded bluntly: "Are you fucking kidding me?"
Sink, on the other hand, has been "campaigning cautiously," according to the Tampa Bay Times. That's the sort of campaigning done by people who feel confident that they'll win.
Unless something dramatic happens on Tuesday — which can certainly happen — it seems as though it will be hard to argue that Obamacare doomed Sink. Barring a lopsided loss, the fight described by Weigel ("every big-spending political organization in the country, has bought airtime, sent mail, and attempted to test its theories" on Obamacare) indicate that the policy, like so many other aspects of a campaign, isn't make or break. Victory has a thousand fathers, as they say, but it often works the other way: interested parties pick which of the thousand fathers they'd like to give give custody to. Democrats will give it to Obamacare, if Sink wins. Republicans are likely to give it to their "big-spending political organizations" being outspent.
Update, Tuesday: Jolly pulled out the victory — but not by much.