Friday, December 15, 2017
Politics

Adam C. Smith: David Jolly's victory spells trouble for Democrats nationwide

If I'm a Democratic House member in any competitive district in America or a Democratic incumbent senator up for re-election this year in a moderate-to-conservative state like North Carolina, Arkansas, Colorado, Alaska or Louisiana, I'm waking up more than a little anxious about what happened in Pinellas County on Tuesday.

In Alex Sink, Democrats had a better-funded, well-known nominee who ran a strong campaign against a little-known, second- or third-tier Republican who ran an often wobbly race in a district Barack Obama won twice. Outside Republican groups — much more so than the under-funded Jolly campaign — hung the Affordable Care Act and President Obama on Sink.

It worked.

Sink and Jolly both tried to argue repeatedly that the race to succeed the late C.W. Bill Young had more to do with local politics than it did national. Nonsense.

More than $12 million spent on hundreds of TV ads and Lord knows how many direct mail fliers weren't talking about Pinellas recreation fees and bus routes. They were flooding Pinellas residents with mostly negative attacks about Obamacare and misleading charges about why Sink or Jolly should not be trusted on Medicare and/or Social Security.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus had every reason to gloat Tuesday night over Rep.-elect Jolly.

"His 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, and to put power in the hands of families and individuals," Priebus said. "In November, voters all across the country will have the chance to send the same message that Pinellas County voters have sent: Democrats' policies are not working for America."

Don't be surprised to see vulnerable Democrats across the country start distancing themselves from health care reform in a way that Sink did not.

Nobody seriously expected Democrats to win back a majority in the U.S. House in November, but Sink's loss in a winnable swing district makes Democrats' hold on the U.S. Senate majority look more tenuous than before the special election.

Obama at this point looks like a drag for Democrats in November, just as he consistently has been for Sink.

Four years ago, she narrowly lost a campaign for governor in a tough political climate against a little-known, first-time candidate who cast her as an Obama/Obamacare cheerleader.

This time, she jumped into the race on the heels of a federal government shutdown that seemed likely to seriously damage the Republican brand. Instead, the Obamacare rollout debacle shifted the landscape entirely, and Sink eventually found herself facing another little-known Republican casting her as an Obama/Obamacare cheerleader in a tough political climate.

One big difference between the two Sink races? This time she has little to apologize for. She ran a hyper-disciplined campaign with a far more robust get-out-the-vote effort than Republicans. One can wonder, though, why Democrats waited until after the Republican primary in January to start criticizing the other side. That was the biggest Republican fear.

The state GOP has every reason to cheer its win in a race that early on looked like Sink's to lose. But looking at how effective the Democrats' once-nonexistent absentee ballot program has become ought to make them nervous.

A special election always promised to be tough for Democrats. Given the president's approval ratings, November is likely to be challenging, too, but if Sink opts to run again she at least could be assured a stronger Democratic turnout.

On the other hand, Roll Call has a statistic likely to give the former banking executive pause about taking on Jolly a second time: So far this century, 85 percent of congressional special-election winners win at least two subsequent general elections.

Two invisible political players stand out in this race: Obama and Gov. Rick Scott. Both sides wanted them as far away from Pinellas County as possible.

In their stead, Bill Clinton starred in robocalls for Sink, and Jeb Bush starred in TV ads and mailers for Jolly. Maybe that's yet another sign that Clinton and Bush remain the most formidable names in politics.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
House Speaker Paul Ryan says he’s not leaving Congress soon

House Speaker Paul Ryan says he’s not leaving Congress soon

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday he’s not leaving Congress anytime soon, trying to squelch rumors that he will walk away in triumph after the Republicans’ treasured tax bill is approved. Politico and the Huffington Post published re...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Pence to delay Mideast trip as tax deal nears vote

Pence to delay Mideast trip as tax deal nears vote

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence is delaying his weekend departure for the Middle East as Congress nears completion of a tax overhaul, his office announced Thursday. White House officials said Pence now plans to leave for Egypt on Tuesday so he...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Senator: Comey’s remarks on Clinton probe heavily edited

Senator: Comey’s remarks on Clinton probe heavily edited

WASHINGTON — A draft statement former FBI director James Comey prepared in anticipation of concluding the Hillary Clinton email case without criminal charges was heavily edited to change the "tone and substance" of the remarks, a Republican senator s...
Published: 12/14/17
William March: AG candidate Ashley Moody called ‘liberal;’ bill takes Orlando money for Tampa transit

William March: AG candidate Ashley Moody called ‘liberal;’ bill takes Orlando money for Tampa transit

Ideological divides in Florida’s Republican attorney general primary race are producing some early negative campaigning, with a strong Tampa Bay area flavor.State Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, one of four candidates, has attacked the early frontrunn...
Published: 12/14/17
Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Rising up in defiance to Richard Spencer, hundreds of University of Florida students sounded off in a deafening chant."Go home, Spencer!" they shouted, as the exasperated white nationalist paced the stage, pleading to be heard.Were the students exerc...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Senate race motivated Alabama’s white, black evangelical voters in different ways

Senate race motivated Alabama’s white, black evangelical voters in different ways

Nationally, the word "evangelical" has become in recent years nearly synonymous with "conservative Republican" and Alabama is one of the most evangelical states in the country. But in Alabama, there is a difference: black Christians.While in many par...
Published: 12/13/17
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith named to fill Franken seat

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith named to fill Franken seat

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Lt. Gov. Tina Smith on Wednesday to fill fellow Democrat Al Franken’s Senate seat until a special election in November, setting up his longtime and trusted adviser for a potentially bruising 2018...
Published: 12/13/17
Elections chief: Automatic recount unlikely in Alabama race

Elections chief: Automatic recount unlikely in Alabama race

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Still-uncounted ballots are unlikely to change the outcome of the U.S. Senate race in Alabama enough to spur an automatic recount, the state’s election chief said Wednesday as Democratic victor Doug Jones urged Republican Roy Moore...
Published: 12/13/17
Democrats jubilant, and newly confident about 2018, as Alabama delivers win on Trump’s turf

Democrats jubilant, and newly confident about 2018, as Alabama delivers win on Trump’s turf

The Democrats’ seismic victory Tuesday in the unlikely political battleground of Alabama brought jubilation — and a sudden a rush of confidence — to a party that has been struggling to gain its footing since Donald Trump won the presidency 13 months ...
Published: 12/13/17
Tax package would lower top tax rate for wealthy Americans

Tax package would lower top tax rate for wealthy Americans

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans on Tuesday rushed toward a deal on a massive tax package that would reduce the top tax rate for wealthy Americans to 37 percent and slash the corporate rate to a level slightly higher than what businesses and co...
Published: 12/12/17