Despite Republican pessimism over a flawed nominee in this Tuesday's closely-watched FL-13 special election between Alex Sink (D) and David Jolly (R), all indications are Tuesday's bellwether contest should be a nailbiter.
-- As of Sunday, Republicans hold a four-point (4,623 vote) lead over Democrats among early voters, which should comprise a majority of the electorate. The early GOP vote edge is smaller than the party's advantages before the 2010 and 2012 FL-GOV and presidential elections, where Democrats prevailed within the district. But Republicans are expecting strong Election Day turnout, while hoping to capitalize on disaffection among independents and even some Democrats, too.
-- The contest is proving to be a crucial test of whether Democrats can defend themselves from attacks over Obamacare and the president's policies. FL-13 is one of the oldest CDs in the country, filled with plenty of seniors disaffected with the president. (Obama narrowly won with 50% in 2012.) A Sink victory would show that despite the tough environment Democrats face, they can prevail with a strong candidate and effective get-out-the-vote efforts. Sink was hit with ads attacking her support for Obamacare; her pivot calling for fixes over repeal is something we'll be hearing from other vulnerable Democrats.
-- Republicans are grousing about Jolly's problems as a candidate, but his flaws were apparent from the outset. For a lobbyist, he didn't leverage his connections into raising the money necessary for a nationally-watched campaign. His Washington ties didn't help him bring in talented people to run his race, either. It's a lesson of the importance of recruiting and backing electable candidates. But if Republicans can win despite a weak nominee, it's a sign 2014 could be yet another wave election.
One wild card: the presence of Libertarian Lucas Overby on the ballot, who has polled in the mid single-digits. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) recorded a last-minute robocall to urge his supporters to back Jolly. If this race is as close as the early vote indicates, it's plausible that the third-party candidate could play the role of spoiler.
-- Josh Kraushaar