Saturday, May 26, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: The folly of calling Jolly's win a mandate (w/video)

So, how should we refer to the winner of Tuesday's special congressional election to succeed the late Rep. Bill Young?

Landslide Jolly? Certainly not Mandate Dave.

Since Tuesday night the airwaves have been alive with the sound of musing over just what Republican David Jolly's defeat of Democrat Alex Sink means for the future of civilization as we know it.

Is Obamacare doomed? Is this a foreshadowing of the implosion of the Democratic Party come the November midterm elections? Was this campaign a stark reminder of the power of unaccountable, opaque third-party political action committees spending unfettered amounts of money?

Of course the answer to all those questions is — maybe. Then again, maybe not.

When a race this high profile and this expensive, with some $12 million spent to elect the most junior of all House members, is decided by less than 2 percentage points you can speculate that the outcome turned on just about anything from Jolly's view of Obama- care as a chapter out of Das Kapital to Sink's almost Gomer Pyle-esque North Carolina accent.

Less than 2 percentage points hardly represents an overwhelming Manifest Destiny endorsement of Rep. Jolly. It does suggest a body politic pretty evenly divided between the two candidates and the issues they debated throughout the campaign.

And perhaps the onion skin-thin outcome also raises the possibility that not even $12 million can buy a blowout.

All too often in races like this the final vote tally can just as easily be determined by intangibles.

For whatever he may have lacked in financial resources to take on Sink, this much is pretty clear: At least the polished, well-pressed David Jolly looked like the congressman from central casting. It was a tossup whether to vote for him or stick him on top of a wedding cake.

Were votes decided one way or the other based on Jolly's assertion that because Sink was a resident of Hillsborough County there was no way she could remotely, possibly grasp the incredibly unique, mysterious, highly classified issues known only to the residents of Congressional District 13 from her Thonotosassa redoubt 20 miles away? Really?

Or were votes influenced by Sink's almost OHMYGAWD!!! shock that because he worked as a Washington lobbyist, Jolly was the very personification of cold-blooded evil? Really?

But for sheer poppycock, perhaps nothing quite topped the blubbering of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who insisted that Jolly's victory showed that "voters are looking for representatives who will fight to end the disaster of Obamacare."

Uh, no, it didn't. A less than 2-point difference hardly demonstrated a groundswell of opposition to Obamacare, which is certainly a divisive issue. Suppose Sink had won by the same margin. Could anyone with any intellectual honesty argue that her victory marked a rousing endorsement of the Affordable Care Act?

This certainly does not rise to the level of finely honed political analysis, but the reasons for Sink's loss might be found buried deep in a New York Times story about the race, in which one of her supporters said this: "I'm a Democrat and I've been bombarded by Alex Sink so much, the phone calls six, seven times a day. It drove me nuts." He voted for Libertarian Lucas Overby.

Perhaps the outcome came down to this: Alex Sink didn't lose because of Obamacare or accusations of being a carpetbagger. She lost by a narrow margin because her incessant commercials, robocalls and campaign fliers were regarded by voters as marginally more annoying, irritating and otherwise shrill than David Jolly's annoying, irritating and otherwise shrill marketing effort.

There's a political science 101 lesson in there somewhere about offending voters simply because you can afford to do so.

Whether anyone is willing to grasp that cautionary tale remains a $12 million question.

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