The Big Senate Battles of 2014 Are on More
Pro-GOP Territory Than FL-13

by Jim Geraghty

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

The GOP’s Win in Florida Isn’t Everything . . . but It’s Something Significant.

Look, if you’re a Republican, go ahead and do a little victory dance over the special election in Florida last night. We obviously don’t get as many victories to celebrate as we would like!

This is just . . . sweet:

[David] Jolly’s win in a Gulf Coast district just west of Tampa illustrated the political toxicity of the law known as Obamacare. Jolly favored repealing and replacing the law, which was a central focus of the campaign, while his Democratic opponent did not. The law’s botched rollout has heightened Democrats’ anxiety eight months before the midterm elections. The Florida result is likely to raise their concerns.

With Jolly holding the seat for Republicans, Democrats must pick up 17 seats to win back the House majority in the fall, a task widely viewed as extremely difficult given historical trends, President Obama’s political woes and the limited pool of competitive seats up for grabs. Jolly will have to defend his seat in the fall.

As expected, the margin was close Tuesday. Jolly outpaced Democrat Alex Sink by about 3,400 votes out of 183,000. The Associated Press called the race for Jolly less than an hour after polls closed.

This morning, almost every Democrat is insisting it’s not a big deal, and almost every Republican is insisting it’s a bellwether, a more ominous omen for the Democrats than their Perrier turning to blood and a rain of endangered frogs falling from the skies above DNC headquarters.

Here’s what it means: A not-so-great Republican candidate can beat a not-so-great Democratic candidate on neutral territory by emphasizing Obamacare. Yes, Alex Sink had run and won statewide and nearly won the governor’s race in 2010. But she also was gaffe-prone – or as Caleb Howe summarized:

Debbie Downer Wasserman Schultz declared,Tonight, Republicans fell short of their normal margin in this district.” Well, yes, because they were running a little-known former staffer and lobbyist who just got divorced and he’s now dating a woman 14 years younger than he is. The previous occupant of the seat, the late Bill Young, was elected in 1970 and looked like he was out of central casting for an elder statesman.

The normal margin in this district? Young ran unopposed seven times. That pushes the “normal margin” pretty close to 100 percent! (In recent cycles, Young won between 57 and 75 percent.)

Some prominent Democrats weren’t accepting their own side’s spin: “Dems should not try to spin this loss. We have to redouble our efforts for 2014. Too much at stake,” declared . . . Paul Begala.

In November, there will be better Democratic candidates on the ballot. But there will also be better Republicans on the ballot. Forget the House of Representatives; not only will the GOP keep control of it in a political environment like this, they could easily gain seats. David Wasserman, House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, declared, “If Dems couldn’t win an Obama CD with a solid candidate against a flawed R, expect a rough November. . . . Bottom line: #FL13 result suggests House GOP still on track for gains this November, perhaps in 5-15 seat range.”

We know the real fight in November is in the Senate races, and you know what’s less Democrat-friendly territory than this R+1 swing district? The states of West Virginia (R+13), North Carolina (R+3), Louisiana (R+12), South Dakota (R+10), Alaska (R+12), Arkansas (R+14), and Montana (R+7). Those are all currently Democrat-held seats. And there are seven of them.

If last night’s result means that a halfway decent Republican candidate can win on Republican-leaning territory by hammering away at Obamacare . . . then the odds of the GOP winning the Senate look very, very good. That means that the competitive Senate races in places like Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and Virginia . . . that’s all gravy. Bonus seats. A cushion for the tougher set of seats up for reelection in 2016.

Almost hard to believe, isn’t it? Amazing what happens when Democrats get to enact the laws they want.

There are also some signs that the GOP get-out-the-vote efforts are finally starting to improve.

Dina Fraioli: “Jolly ran a better ground campaign. Republicans should be MORE proud of that. Obamacare hurt Sink, but didn’t kill her.”

Rick Wilson: “Be more proud of the fantastic field work by the @DavidJollyCD13 campaign and outside groups than the magical thinking this was Obamacare. I’m a media guy, and I am in awe of the hard work people did to pull voters for Jolly. Data, targeting, ground work, org fundamentals.”

Here’s what Stuart Rothenberg was writing back in January:

It’s rare in politics that anything other than a presidential contest is viewed as a “must win” — but the special election in Florida’s 13th District falls into that category for Democrats.

A loss in the competitive March 11 contest would almost certainly be regarded by dispassionate observers as a sign that President Barack Obama could constitute an albatross around the neck of his party’s nominees in November. And that could make it more difficult for Democratic candidates, campaign committees and interest groups to raise money and energize the grass roots . . . 

Given all of the advantages that Sink has — the district, her experience and proven electoral success, her money in the bank and her united party — and the problems the GOP nominee will face, shouldn’t the likely Democratic nominee be a clear favorite to win the special election, getting her party one seat closer to the majority in November?

Since most nonpartisan handicappers and analysts have for years expected this seat to go Democratic when it became open, a Republican victory in March would likely say something about the national political environment and the inclination of district voters to send a message of dissatisfaction about the president. And that possibility should worry the White House.

That’s a lot more fun to read when you know the outcome, isn’t it?