Why Millions Are Being Spent on Florida’s Special Election

Both parties are gambling their reputations to win a true swing district.

Florida congressional District 13 candidates, Democrat Alex Sink, left, and Republican David Jolly. 
National Journal
Scott Bland
See more stories about...
Scott Bland
Feb. 27, 2014, 4 p.m.

Sea­son­al mi­gra­tion isn’t just for the birds. This winter, polit­ic­al money — mil­lions and mil­lions of dol­lars of it — has also flown south.

With two weeks to go, out­side groups had already spent nearly $7 mil­lion to in­flu­ence the Flor­ida spe­cial elec­tion to suc­ceed the late Rep. Bill Young, a 22-term Re­pub­lic­an who died in Oc­to­ber. More will come in the fi­nal stretch be­fore Elec­tion Day on March 11, show­ing up on TVs and in mail­boxes jammed with polit­ic­al ad­vert­ising.

Both parties are gambling that their can­did­ate — Demo­crat Alex Sink, a former gubernat­ori­al nom­in­ee, or Re­pub­lic­an lob­by­ist and former Young aide Dav­id Jolly — can cap­ture a rare swing seat and, in do­ing so, prove something to their sup­port­ers head­ing in­to the Novem­ber midterms. Re­pub­lic­ans are spend­ing a large chunk of their money blast­ing Sink over Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law, while Demo­crats are test­ing wheth­er their vaunted get-out-the-vote ap­par­at­us can over­come a dif­fi­cult na­tion­al en­vir­on­ment.

The stakes are high: Only three House races in the whole coun­try saw more than $7 mil­lion of out­side spend­ing in 2010, and there were just 11 such races in 2012, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics.

Al­though Young com­fort­ably held his seat un­til his death, the area slowly shif­ted to­ward Demo­crats dur­ing his four dec­ades in of­fice. Pres­id­ent Obama car­ried the dis­trict nar­rowly in both 2008 and 2012, even as Young won reelec­tion hand­ily. Any real­ist­ic path to a fu­ture Demo­crat­ic House ma­jor­ity runs through dis­tricts like this one.

But demo­graphy doesn’t auto­mat­ic­ally trans­late in­to votes, es­pe­cially for Demo­crats, who of­ten struggle to mo­tiv­ate their core sup­port­ers when the pres­id­ency isn’t up for grabs. That’s a prob­lem they’ll face in Novem­ber, but it could be es­pe­cially press­ing in March, when “core sup­port­ers” are most of what’s ne­ces­sary to win a low-turnout spe­cial elec­tion. Nearly one-quarter of the dis­trict’s res­id­ents are seni­ors, who are among the voters most dis­af­fected to­ward Obama and Obama­care.

Along with vo­lun­teers and healthy can­vassing ef­forts, as well as mo­tiv­a­tion­al TV ads (which re­main a key part of turn­ing out sup­port­ers), Demo­crats are again ap­ply­ing their tech­no­lo­gic­al prowess, much dis­cussed after the 2012 pres­id­en­tial race, to the task of find­ing votes. “A lot of the mod­el­ing and ana­lyt­ics you saw in the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion, we’re start­ing to see that type of work down in con­gres­sion­al races,” said Sink’s cam­paign man­ager, Ash­ley Walk­er, who was Obama’s Flor­ida state dir­ect­or in 2012. “Ob­vi­ously, it’s at a dif­fer­ent scale, but it does help make budget de­cisions and tar­get cer­tain groups of voters.”

Re­pub­lic­ans are get­ting in the mix, too. Among oth­er ef­forts, the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee is help­ing sup­port­ers re­quest ab­sent­ee bal­lots via its Vote Early Flor­ida Web portal.

Early on, Re­pub­lic­ans may have fallen off the pace on get­ting their votes in.

After a month of mail vot­ing, which could ac­count for a ma­jor­ity of the votes cast, Demo­crats had cast 39 per­cent of the re­turned bal­lots, with Re­pub­lic­ans ac­count­ing for 42 per­cent. That’s about even with the GOP voter-re­gis­tra­tion ad­vant­age in the 13th Dis­trict, but Flor­ida Re­pub­lic­ans typ­ic­ally out­per­form that meas­ure in early vot­ing, build­ing a pre-Elec­tion Day ad­vant­age over Demo­crats.

In 2012, the Tampa Bay Times re­por­ted, GOP ab­sent­ee votes there out­numbered Demo­crat­ic ones by 6 per­cent­age points, and the mar­gin was even big­ger in 2010. There is still time, though, for Re­pub­lic­ans to stretch their ad­vant­age. “If you look at what tra­di­tion­ally hap­pens here with late voters, I think we’re OK,” said former county GOP Chair­man Tony Di­Mat­teo. “Ba­sic­ally, the older people in this county, who tend to be more con­ser­vat­ive, vote later.”

Al­though par­tis­an turnout is para­mount, both cam­paigns are also seek­ing elu­sive votes out­side their parties. “This isn’t a Demo­crat­ic or a Re­pub­lic­an dis­trict; this is the true defin­i­tion of a swing dis­trict,” Walk­er says. “There’s no path to vic­tory without pulling votes from not just in­de­pend­ents but from the oth­er side of the aisle.” Sink, whose ad­visers say they ex­pect par­tis­an turnout to end up fa­vor­ing Jolly, has pur­sued and touted en­dorse­ments from loc­al Re­pub­lic­ans, while stress­ing in cam­paign ads and ap­pear­ances that she wants to work with mem­bers of both parties.

Jolly’s cam­paign has been more or­tho­dox — if he has Demo­crat­ic en­dorse­ments, he’s not brag­ging about them — but his camp ar­gues that Obama­care can serve as a cross-party mo­tiv­at­or. In­de­pend­ents are sour­er on the law than in the past, and Demo­crats aren’t show­ing the level of en­thu­si­asm about the is­sue ne­ces­sary to coun­ter­act the op­pos­i­tion. Plus, little on either side mo­tiv­ates the base like health care does for the GOP right now.

The lone in­de­pend­ent sur­vey of the spe­cial elec­tion showed Sink nar­rowly out­pa­cing Jolly among in­de­pend­ents and also draw­ing more cross-party sup­port than he has, to build an over­all lead. That’s es­pe­cially con­cern­ing to the party strategists who are also wor­ried about Jolly leak­ing con­ser­vat­ive votes to the Liber­tari­an can­did­ate in the race.

Ob­serv­ers can over­rate spe­cial elec­tion res­ults as har­bingers of what’s to come in Novem­ber, but the terms of the fight can be pre­dict­ive. And in this battle­ground, it’s hard to avoid the im­pres­sion that both parties’ na­tion­al hopes are bat­tling in mini­ature, as Re­pub­lic­ans hope an Obama­care back­lash helps de­liv­er the win and Demo­crats wager on an ex­per­i­enced, ap­peal­ing can­did­ate and a dose of stra­tegic smarts to help them over­come.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
CITIZENS UNITED PT. 2?
Movie Based on ‘Clinton Cash’ to Debut at Cannes
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."

Source:
×