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February 7, 2016

Why Florida’s 13th District Special Election Is Still a Tossup

Democrats are cautiously optimistic their nominee, Alex Sink, can win. (Tim Boyles/Getty Images)

Democrats are cautiously optimistic their nominee, Sink, can win. (Tim Boyles/Getty Images)

After almost five months and more than $9 million in campaign spending, neither Democrat Alex Sink nor Republican David Jolly has a clear upper-hand in the final hours before Tuesday’s special election in Florida’s 13th District.

Even though polling continues to show a neck-and-neck race, many Democrats are privately and cautiously confident that Sink will prevail, based on her performance with absentee ballots (compared to Democrats who have won the district in the past) and polling of the outstanding voters.

But there is enough uncertainty to keep the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rating of race as a Tossup.

Over the last month, the polling in the race has been remarkably consistent, as it has had Sink and Jolly within the margin of error. And the polls have shown the undecided vote between 7 and 9 points. That is significant when the candidates are within a point or two of each other.

Polling has also shown libertarian candidate Lucas Overby receiving 6 percent to 7 percent of the vote. That is likely overstating his support in the district (he seems more likely to receive between three and four percent, according to operatives tracking the race), but it is unclear whether he is drawing disproportionately from Jolly or Sink in those polls.

There is one certainty in the race: the winning party will overplay the results, the losing party underplay it, and the lessons from the election will likely be somewhere in the middle.

Special elections can be bellwethers — except when they’re not. In 2008, Democrats won a trio of competitive special elections before gaining 21 more seats that November and adding to the party’s House majority. In May 2010, Democrats won a supposedly bellwether special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th District six months before losing 63 seats in the House.

If Democrats win, they will be emboldened to implement their defense against Republican attacks on the Affordable Care Act (fix, not repeal) into competitive races nationwide. If Republicans win, the long march against Obamacare will continue. For a closer look at the messaging battle, see Paul Kane’s piece from Pinellas County in The Washington Post.

Looking at the results from a different angle, whichever party loses on Tuesday will immediately blame their nominee. The backbiting against Jolly has already begun, courtesy of a recent Politico piece. But it’s not surprising, considering many GOP operatives didn’t want Jolly in the first place. They wanted state Rep. Kathleen Peters, who lost the primary.

Even though Republicans are defending the 13th District after GOP Rep. C.W. Bill Young’s death, it will be more difficult for Democrats to explain away a loss. As my colleague Stuart Rothenberg wrote in early January (“The Race Democrats Can’t Afford to Lose”), Democrats and Sink enjoyed most of the traditional measures of success in a race including higher name identification, better reputation and more money. A loss won’t stop Democrats from blaming Sink (as they did in the 2010 gubernatorial election) but it’s more difficult to swallow considering the party courted her and cleared the field for her.

Polls close at 7 p.m. EST. Remember that what actually happens in the race isn’t as important was what lessons party operatives learn about the race, because those lessons will help guide the parties’ strategies this cycle.

  • susierosie

    This is a district that republican should win easily. I love the spin that democrats should win or if not than it is bad for democrats. LOL. If Sink wins it will be because more people support Obamacare than want it repealed.

    • dog_breath

      Wrong dummy. This is a majority democrat district. if Jolly wins it will be an upset and because people hate Obamacare. If Sink wins, people still hate Obamacare!

      • torrentprime

        Child, this district was just changed, and the area went for Obama but before him Bush. Sounds kinda toss-up.

    • mabramso

      As Rothenberg has stated, all the fundamentals of this swing district favor the Democrats. If the GOP candidate wins, it will be an upset.

    • Whit_Chambers

      Susie, it appears you are using the dog’s brain to think with.

      This is a majority Democrat district.

      Adjust your meds

      • Joe Bruno

        Looks Like the Meds Worked ~ Sink = Sunk ~ Now just Retire Would You Loser

  • Fresh Mountain Air

    Where common morals and language are used, our social interactions become more predictable and the case for centralized control is weakened.

  • Clutch Cargo

    Absentee ballots are where Democrats fraudulate the system. They flood neighborhoods, handing out absentee ballots to anyone and everyone, whether that person qualifies to vote or not. Many times, the “voter” is unaware they have even voted Democrat.

  • Phillip Wilson

    If those who worship at collectivism’s altar were not selfish, they would not defend the superstitions, illusions, and utopian fantasies conjured up to justify collectivism and the plunder upon which it depends.

  • spo101

    just drove 2 FLA f/ WV If Democrats in 13th
    district don’t get out the vote. I’ll beat U lazy apathetic mofos myself,

  • Chatty Kathy

    If Sink wins, it will be because of the third party Libertarian candidate. I never understood why people vote for candidates knowing full well that they have no chance in hell of winning, moreover, no third party will ever be relevant, while many may like the concept of a third party, nowhere near enough people will support it. Period. No party is entitled to votes, but if Sink fails to gain 50% of the vote, it should go to a runoff.

    • Michael49forlife

      If Sink wins it is because more people voted for her than Jolly… no need to over-analyse it. In regards to a third party, I completely agree. giving people too many choices has been proven to make it harder for people to make decisions and usually results in nobody voting. I think that the Ted Cruz’s of the world need to get their grubby little hands off of the tea party name and create their own party. maybe: Idiots of America….

      • Chatty Kathy

        Not over-analyzing it, but just stating the facts. When you have two candidates on one side up against another candidate on one side, it gives one side an unfair advantage. That’s we need runoffs, especially in local elections.

        As for Ted Cruz, I normally vote Republican, and I cannot stand him.

    • Jordan Wethe

      “No party is entitled to votes.”

      That’s exactly right Kathy. Don’t take this the wrong way, but the reason you can’t understand why people vote 3rd party is you haven’t been around long enough to be disillusioned by these two parties. The Republicans are all talk, “radio,” and no action. Perhaps you’re comfortable with that.

      By the way, a run-off is actually a great idea, but it will lead to more 3rd parties, not less, and eventually, the demise of the GOP.

      • Chatty Kathy

        I am 33 years old, it’s not like I just graduated high school a year ago. I can understand why people vote third party, but I don’t live in fantasy lands and expect politicians to be saints, just make good policies that promote growth and upward mobility.

        I’m no fan of either party, but right now, Democrats are in power and they’re the ones who need to be held responsible.

        Don’t hold your breath on any third party, especially the libertarian party to come to any kind of relevance in our lifetime. The system is way too stacked against it they will never gain enough support. Like it or not, it’s reality.

  • Michael49forlife

    You would think that people would get tired of being on the wrong side of things but everything the Democrats/Obama do seems to piss them off even more. I mean, they talk about how an ex-kgb officer is a better president than Obama.. I mean, seriously…

  • Susan Wajda Bartlett

    What lessons did the Dems learn tonight? Can’t wait to hear!

    • Joe Bruno

      Alex Sink is just another Carpetbagger and this proves it .. with her North Carolina accent she Couldn’t Pull it Off ~ She Needs to Just Go Away and Retire Now ~ Jeeez She’s Almost Hillary’s Age

    • Mark_Melrose

      They needed Clinton and Obama to campaign more! Maybe even DWS.

  • David

    Nope. Sink sank.

  • Sud1

    ” cautiously confident that Sink will prevail, based on her performance with absentee ballots ”

    I guess 6 million doesn’t buy as many dead voters as it used to

  • Mark_Melrose

    Looks like that cake wasn’t quite baked, or nearly ready for eating. Rothenberg is a reliable dunce for the democrat machine.

  • Mark_Melrose

    Sink sank on skunks like Obamacare, Clinton, and the lies between her teeth.

  • Mark_Melrose

    Wow. Are you off enough in your prediction to change your profile, and never show your uninformed opinions again? Naw. Democrats are like that.

    • rocket621

      WTF are you talking about? Change my profile? I was wrong about the election. I thought she would get a higher percentage of Independents. You really are an idiot.

  • zl28

    Hahaha Democraps

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