Outside Spending Battle Begins in Fla. Special Election

EMILY’s List readies mail campaign, while the NRCC unloads a paid Web video.

MIAMI - OCTOBER 21: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink speaks during a campaign event at Miami-Dade College October 21, 2010 in Miami, Florida. Sink is facing off against Republican challenger Rick Scott for the Florida governor's seat.
National Journal
Scott Bland
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Scott Bland
Jan. 16, 2014, 9:26 a.m.

The spe­cial elec­tion to re­place the late Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., is get­ting its first big in­jec­tion of out­side money just days in­to the con­test.

Wo­men Vote!, the in­de­pend­ent ex­pendit­ure arm of Demo­crat­ic wo­men’s group EMILY’s List, will soon be­gin a dir­ect-mail pro­gram tar­get­ing 46,000 voters in Flor­ida’s 13th Dis­trict, where EMILY’s List-en­dorsed Demo­crat Alex Sink and Re­pub­lic­an Dav­id Jolly are bat­tling over a bell­weth­er dis­trict. The six-fig­ure pro­gram is di­vided in two, with one set of mail­ers seek­ing to gen­er­ate votes from in­de­pend­ent seni­or wo­men and a second set seek­ing to per­suade and mo­tiv­ate both wo­men and men who tend to vote in gen­er­al elec­tions but not in primar­ies.

The dis­trict has one of the biggest seni­or pop­u­la­tions in the coun­try, with nearly 23 per­cent of res­id­ents 65 or older.

Tar­geted house­holds will re­ceive sev­en mail pieces, timed dif­fer­ently de­pend­ing on wheth­er the voters will re­ceive mail bal­lots. Voters will start get­ting ab­sent­ee bal­lots in early Feb­ru­ary, while the spe­cial elec­tion is sched­uled for March 11. Jolly, a former Young staffer who has worked as a lob­by­ist since leav­ing the Hill, just cap­tured the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­a­tion Tues­day. Sink was un­op­posed for the Demo­crat­ic nod.

The Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee is also spend­ing in the dis­trict Thursday, in a less tra­di­tion­al man­ner: It re­leased a Web video ad backed by a “six-fig­ure” ex­pendit­ure that hammered Sink over her spend­ing as Flor­ida’s chief fin­an­cial of­ficer. “It’s troub­ling that Alex Sink spent over $400,000 of Flor­ida fam­il­ies’ money to jet around in a tax­pay­er-fun­ded plane — even us­ing it for per­son­al use and for polit­ic­al cam­paign events,” said NR­CC spokes­wo­man Katie Prill in a state­ment.

Out­side spend­ing fig­ures to be crit­ic­al in the closely di­vided dis­trict, which Pres­id­ent Obama car­ried nar­rowly in the 2012 elec­tion. Some Re­pub­lic­an groups have signaled they may sit the race out, while sev­er­al Demo­crat­ic ones, in­clud­ing EMILY’s List, have in­dic­ated that they ex­pect to be fully in­volved. EMILY’s List en­dorsed Sink al­most im­me­di­ately after she got in­to the race. “There is no ques­tion for the wo­men and work­ing fam­il­ies of Pinel­las: Alex Sink will put them first,” EMILY’s List spokes­wo­man Marcy Stech said in a state­ment. “Dav­id Jolly em­bod­ies the worst of Wash­ing­ton and is only in it for him­self.”

That po­ten­tial Demo­crat­ic out­side-spend­ing ad­vant­age is un­pre­dict­able giv­en the large amounts of money a single group can in­ject at a mo­ment’s no­tice, but it is one reas­on Sink has been con­sidered a fa­vor­ite in the race. The next steps on both sides will cla­ri­fy those pre­dic­tions fur­ther. In the ab­sence of re­li­able pub­lic polling, third-party ex­pendit­ures may provide one of the best clues in­to how Re­pub­lic­ans view Jolly’s chances.

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