Jolly, 41, defeated Democrat challenger Alex Sink, 65, a former
state chief financial officer, by 3,500 votes or a 1.87 percent
margin — 48.43 percent to 46.56 percent, according to the Pinellas
County Supervisor of Elections website.
Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby took 4.83 percent of the votes.
Republicans were quick to declare the result a repudiation of
President Obama's Affordable Healthcare Act, known as Obamacare.
Jolly's victory "shows that voters are looking for representatives
who will fight to end the disaster of Obamacare, to get Washington
to spend our money responsibly," Republican National Committee
Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement.
Jolly did not mention Obamacare in his victory speech and said that
his margin of victory was too slim to "take a mandate from this."
In his victory speech, Jolly spurned national attention on the
election. "This race is not about defending a broken agenda in
Washington," he told supporters. "This race is about .... serving
the people right here in our own community."
Sink had held a slight lead in the polls throughout the campaign
against Jolly, a Republican lobbyist in Washington, D.C., but may
have been hurt by poor turnout of 39 percent, far below the 2012
Florida's is a big swing state, with 27 seats in the House of
Representatives, tied with New York state for the third largest
delegation in the nation, and behind only California and Texas.
A Democratic victory would have been a major blow to the Republican
party heading into the fall mid-term elections, as well as the next
presidential race in 2016. Democrats hold the advantage in the more
liberal south of the state and Republicans prevail in the
conservative north, while central Florida is more evenly split.
The Tampa area Gulf Coast district has been a comfortable Republican
seat for decades, held for more than 40 years by Jolly's former
boss, U.S. Representative C.W. Bill Young, a Republican who died in
October aged 82.
Young won the seat in 2012 by almost 50,000 votes and a margin of 15
percent. However, the district was won by President Barack Obama in
2012, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Voters were hit with more than $10 million worth of television
advertising and other campaign material financed in large part by
the national parties and partisan groups hoping a victory in this
race will signal the prospect of a bigger win in the November
[to top of second column]
"You can see the handprints of the national parties all over the
race," said Susan MacManus, a longtime political analyst and
professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa."It almost
seems as if the 2012 presidential race never ended, and just the
faces and the district changed."
Sink slammed Jolly as a Washington lobbyist for special interests,
while Jolly fired back at Sink for being close to President Obama
and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Republicans hold a 2.4 percent edge in voter registration in
Florida's congressional district 13, which lies within Pinellas
County on the state's west coast.
MacManus said an early focus on Obamacare got little traction
because older voters were not affected. Sink switched to criticizing
Jolly for representing a client who wanted to privatize Social
Security and turn Medicare into a voucher program, changes Jolly
said he does not support.
"This is a strategy I think Democrats are looking at nationally to
change the focus from Obamacare to Social Security and Medicare,"
Following the election, MacManus expects both parties to use the
Tampa Bay area, the nation's 10th largest television market and home
to 25 percent of all registered Florida voters, as a political
laboratory to conduct focus group surveys on the campaign
It was a crushing defeat for Sink who narrowly lost the election for
state governor in 2010 against Republican Rick Scott.
Sink conceded victory soon after the results were announced but did
not say whether she will challenge Jolly again in November when his
seat is up again for election.
(Writing by David Adams; editing by Ken Wills)
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