Karl Rove has a warning for his fellow Republicans about their victory in this week's House race: "Don't uncork the champagne."
Rove quashed the GOP's good feeling about Republican David Jolly's narrow victory over Democrat Alex Sink in Florida's 13th Congressional District special election in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday night. "Special elections don't always dictate how midterms turn out," said the former deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to George W. Bush. A win in March doesn't necessarily signal a change in the tide for the Grand Old Party in November.
Rove knows well the dangers of heading into an election with high expectations. On the night of the 2012 presidential election, the Republican political consultant, dispatching from the Fox News studio, was convinced that Mitt Romney would win. But when the network called Ohio—and, subsequently, the election—for President Obama, a rambling Rove refused to accept the results. The pure disbelief begins in earnest at 1:38 in the video.
Many conservatives were sure they had the right candidate and the right political climate to take back the presidency that year. Like Rove, they learned the lesson of overstating the level of voter support the hard way.
Republicans and political analysts may not be popping bubbly just yet, but they're certainly energized after Florida's special election. After all, "this was a race that most political observers expected Sink to win," explains Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. "Jolly was a lobbyist—not exactly the best profession in this political environment—who was decidedly unproven as a candidate."
A victory despite a candidate's rookie status suggests that it was strategy that prevailed at the ballot box. This week's special election was a test-drive for the two parties' playbooks for this year's House and Senate races, explains Molly Ball at The Atlantic. "For Republicans, the strategy is simple and single-minded: Pound on Obamacare, reminding voters how unhappy it has made them and how angry they are with the president," Ball writes. For Democrats, it's "frantically trying to talk about anything else."
A test-drive eight months out can predict only so much. Still, Democrats are nervous about how well it apparently turned out for the opposing party. Republicans know it, and they're going to stick with anti-Obamacare game plan until fall. "But only if they apply its lessons in dozens of other contests for the House and Senate," Rove warns, "can they turn a good midterm into a great one."