In what was billed as a bellwether for November, Republican David Jolly defeated Democratic rival former state CFO Alex Sink by nearly 2 percentage points in a special election Tuesday to win the seat held for decades by his former boss, the late U.S. Rep. Bill Young.
Despite being outspent by the Sink campaign, with all precincts in, Jolly claimed a solid 3,400-vote lead for the seat, which represents parts of Pinellas County, taking 48.4 percent of the vote. Sink, who had been leading in recent polls including a Public Policy Polling (PPP) poll released Monday, had 46.6 percent of the vote. Libertarian hopeful Lucas Overby finished with 4.8 percent. Turnout was 39 percent.
"I want to thank everyone tonight," Jolly told his supporters in his victory speech. "This is your night, not mine. I'm proud to be the next representative for you in District 13.
"I ran for Congress not to advance Washington but to advance Pinellas County," Jolly said.
Sink was better known at the start of the contest from her time as state CFO and for being the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2010. While Jolly faced two opponents in the Republican primary, Democrats cleared the decks for Sink, chasing out Jessica Ehrlich, who had given Young a surprisingly strong challenge in 2012.
Despite her attacks on Jollys lobbying background and insisting he would reform Social Security, Sink could not hold onto her advantages and conceded Tuesday night, less than an hour and a half after the ballots closed.
While tonight was not the result we were hoping for, I am proud of the race we have run and so grateful for the countless Pinellas residents, volunteers and supporters who put their faith in our campaign, Sink informed supporters.
I have congratulated David Jolly and wish him the best success in representing the voices of Pinellas in Congress," Sink added. My life has always been shaped by a deep commitment to service and problem-solving, and I look forward to finding new ways and new avenues to continue practicing these values in pursuit of doing good for our community, our state and our country.
Both sides relied on outside groups to turn out the vote. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) dropped $2 million in the race to add to the $2.2 million Sink relied on. House Majority PAC, a super-PAC focused on backing Democrats in the U.S. House races, sent a memo on Tuesday noting it had spent around $1 million on Sinks behalf, including $770,000 on television ads, $190,000 on mail and $15,000 in online ads. The League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club spent more than $340,000 for Sink.
The Jolly camp relied on around $560,000 of its own spending and $2 million from the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $1.2 million on Jollys behalf while Republican super-PACs American Crossroads and American Action Network spent more than $350,000 apiece for the Republican. Estimates held that Sink supporters spent around $1 million more on their candidate than Jolly's did for theirs.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), offered his take Tuesday night, insisting the win was a blow against President Barack Obama.
David proved that Pinellas County voters are tired of the devastating policies of this administration," Walden said. Throughout this campaign, David has outlined his vision on how to grow the economy, create jobs and deliver quality health care for Pinellas families.
Tonight, one of Nancy Pelosis most prized candidates was ultimately brought down because of her unwavering support for Obamacare, and that should be a loud warning for other Democrats running coast to coast, added Walden. Pinellas County voters have made the right choice; David will be a dedicated and thoughtful representative for them in Congress.
Steve Law, the president and CEO of American Crossroads, said the Republicans had picked up a few plays from Obamas game plan.
"A lot of us rolled up our sleeves after 2012, studied the Obama playbook and invested in targeted voter turnout and more effective messaging, Law said. The Florida CD 13 special (election) was an important test market and there was unprecedented cooperation among outside groups. We intend to keep refining these lessons as we prepare for the fall elections."
U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., praised Sink for a hard-fought campaign and insisted his party would compete for the seat come November.
Alex has spent her career fighting for Florida families and bringing people together to get results and this campaign was no exception, Israel said. Alex put this district in play despite Republicans spending $5 million against her, and she came closer to victory in a historically Republican district than any Democrat has in decades.
Democrats will fight for FL-13 in the midterm, when the electorate is far less heavily tilted toward Republicans, Israel added, before noting Jolly supporters poured in millions from outside the district while ignoring the millions spent on Sinks behalf. Despite those millions from Republican outside groups, they underperformed because the only message they offered voters repealing the ACA is out of touch and failed to bring them even close to their historically wide margins.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) played up a similar theme on Tuesday night.
Republican special-interest groups poured in millions to hold onto a Republican congressional district that theyve comfortably held for nearly 60 years, Wasserman Schultz said. Tonight, Republicans fell short of their normal margin in this district because the agenda they are offering voters has a singular focus -- that a majority of voters oppose -- repealing the Affordable Care Act that would return us to the same old broken health-care system.
While tonight Democrats didnt win, we are proud of Alex and the race she ran based on a vision of opportunity for all and an agenda that would grow the middle class and protect Floridas families, Wasserman Schultz added.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org.