Liberals and commentators who don’t want to see a Democratic wipeout in the midterm elections have taken this reasonable argument:
David Jolly’s narrow victory in Tuesday’s special election in Florida was not based solely upon his opposition to Obamacare.
. . . and are transmogrifying it into this implausible argument:
David Jolly’s narrow victory in Tuesday’s special election in Florida was not based upon his opposition to Obamacare, and there’s little or no reason to think Republicans can ride the issue to victory in November.
Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg:
“For sure, the rollout mess hurt the president and shifted the focus away from the hated Republican Congress,” Greenberg says. “But in the battlegrounds, the voters are split down the middle. This is not a wedge issue. Voters still want to implement and fix. Democrats can, and should, engage on health care.”
Looking at this race in isolation, you have to disentangle a bunch of connected factors to suss out how much impact Obamacare had. First, start from the fact that this historically GOP-leaning district went very narrowly for Obama in November 2012. Then correct for the fact that the special election took place in March 2014, no Obama on the ticket, and Obamacare central to the GOP campaign. But then recorrect for the fact that a talented Libertarian candidate in this elderly district probably siphoned more votes away from Sink than from Jolly (though that’s unclear as well). Add in subjective candidate quality critiques, fundraising, counterfactuals and so on and so on, and it’s suddenly extremely difficult to say how much narrower Sink’s defeat would have been were it not for Obamacare — or if Obamacare was truly decisive.
There are too many variables in play to say whether this means Dems will be in serious trouble in states like Michigan and Colorado many months from now. Maybe they will be, but we just don’t know yet. Does yesterday’s loss prove that Dem “keep and fix” message is also fatally flawed in statewide races? Anything is possible, but it’s unclear what alternatives Dems have, and again, we just don’t know yet.
Victory has a thousand fathers, defeat is an orphan. Sure, you can point to other factors, although the sudden revisionist history that Florida’s 13th congressional district is some sort of Republican stronghold is particularly disingenuous, considering in how many recent cycles the late Bill Young, the preceding Republican representative, cruised along based upon his longtime incumbency and his perch on the Appropriations Committee.
Democrats thought they had a good chance of winning early on in this special-election cycle, and they had a lot of compelling reasons to think so: They nominated a candidate who had run statewide and nearly won a governor’s race in 2010. They were running against an opponent who had never run before, used to work as a lobbyist, recently divorced, and was running around with a much younger girlfriend. The elderly demographics suggested a true swing district, a jump ball between the parties.
Democratic donors and liberal groups didn’t spend $6.2 million down there on a lark.
What’s more, Democrats had reasons to hope Sink would be reasonably inoculated on the Obamacare issue. She never voted for it. There was no video of her echoing the president’s pledge, “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” As an outsider to Washington (although not state Democratic politics), she had room to pose as a partial critic of the program, criticizing the cuts to Medicare Advantage. She didn’t have to deny or excuse the parts of the program that flopped. Her game plan was to acknowledge Obamacare’s failures but promise that she could “fix” the program, not repeal it, when she got to Washington. She executed that game plan.
But the game plan didn’t work among the folks who ended up casting ballots – or at least, not well enough.
The turnout for Republicans was darn good for a special election, and there’s some evidence building that the GOP is finally developing a technically proficient get-out-the-vote program. But a passion-stirring issue like Obamacare, with its myriad catches, glitches, costs, complications, and delays, greatly assists a get-out-the-vote effort.