But local Florida analysts say the narrow result was more likely a
reflection of the district's voter make-up, low turnout, and a
Democratic challenger lacking in charisma, than public opposition to
the president's signature healthcare legislation, popularly known as
"In the end, it looked just like the divided country, and the
(Republican) district that it is," said Susan MacManus, a political
analyst and professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
Republican David Jolly, 41, defeated Democrat Alex Sink, 65, by
3,500 votes, or a 1.9 percent margin — 48.4 percent to 46.5 percent,
according to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections website.
The gap closely mirrors the Republicans' 2.4 percent margin over
Democrats in the district's total registered voters.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner, on Wednesday declared the
result a repudiation of Obamacare, and projected it as the gravy
train the party could ride to November's midterm elections.
"More people are going to lose their policies over the next couple
years, people are going to pay a lot more for the policies they're
going to have to buy at the exchanges, it's going to get a lot worse
before it gets better," Boehner said.
Jolly's victory "shows that voters are looking for representatives
who will fight to end the disaster of Obamacare," Republican
National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement.
But Daniel Smith, political analyst and professor at the University
of Florida, said the party would do so at its own peril.
"I don't think people are up in arms in Pinellas County about
Obamacare. If Republicans run with that, they'll be sorely
mistaken," Smith said.
Smith said the result was to be expected from a district with a
decades-long history of voting for Republicans.
The Tampa area Gulf Coast district was easily 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 held the seat
comfortably in 2012 with 57 percent of the vote.
Jolly avoided the subject of Obamacare in his victory speech on
Tuesday evening, noting that his margin of victory was too slim to
"take a mandate from this."
MacManus said Obamacare became more of a symbol than a policy
preference. "Obamacare is a surrogate to how Washington is working
and how the president is doing," she said.
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National parties and partisan groups poured more than $10 million
into the race, which Smith said worked out to about $50 per vote,
making the election an unreliable forecast of what to expect in
"If they're going to be able to spend $50 a vote in the general
(mid-term) election to flip other competitive or vulnerable
Democratic seats, it would be mind-boggling to spend that kind of
money ... But who knows, the floodgates are open," Smith said.
MacManus said the real lesson of Tuesday's vote going into the
midterm election in November is that Sink's challenge failed to
refocus the campaign away from Obamacare and onto Republican
attempts to privatize in various ways Social Security and Medicare.
All 435 congressional seats, including Jolly's, will be up for grabs
in the November mid-term election.
Some national Democrats are urging Sink to try again, arguing that
low Democratic turn-out was what sank her. Turn-out was only 39
percent overall, with Jolly getting a total of 89,000 votes, way
below the 189,000 votes Young got in 2012.
Smith said Democrats led in early and absentee voting, but failed to
get their voters to the polls in large enough numbers on election
day. But Smith added that turn-out wasn't Sink's only problem.
"Frankly I think it boils down to a candidate who is not terribly
effective connecting with voters, and that's Alex Sink ... Just
doesn't have a real gift for retail politics and that's needed in
these small elections," Smith said.
(Additional reporting and editing By David Adams and Gunna Dickson)
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