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February 11, 2016

Lessons and Regrets Precede Florida Special Election

With just days to go in the smash-mouth special election on Florida’s Gulf Coast, both parties are managing expectations ahead of what could be a narrow margin of victory.

The race to replace the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., is the most competitive special election of the 2014 cycle. Neither party is exuding confidence about the contest for the swingy 13th District, and nearly anyone who claims to have seen an internal poll says this tossup race will go down to the wire.

While the results of House specials are often viewed through a national lens, there is possibly no word that makes national operatives involved in this race cringe more than “bellwether.” Republicans are expected to keep control of the House regardless of the results of Tuesday’s election, but with midterm primaries kicking off this week, the Florida contest does provide a prime opportunity to test messaging and tactics before the fall.

The Democrat in the race, Alex Sink, started with an advantage. Party insiders cleared the path to her nomination, she boasted high name identification thanks to prior statewide runs for office and she’s proved to have golden fundraising skills.

Republican David Jolly spent the first half of this campaign mired in a primary race and lagged far behind in fundraising. Still, Republicans say they’re pleasantly surprised he is still competitive — while Democrats are quick to remind the world that they anticipated a narrowed margin all along.

So while the race’s national implications are debatable, the more pressing topic among Washington party insiders is what operatives have already learned about the 2014 cycle from this race.

Candidates (And Their Fundraising) Still Matter

Sink, in some ways, is the ideal special election candidate for one reason: She can raise money hand over fist.

The latest fundraising reports showed Sink raised $2.5 million in less than four months, while Jolly brought in $1 million. Much of Jolly’s money came from dozens of Republican members, through campaign and leadership PAC contributions.

Republican sources on Capitol Hill said the National Republican Congressional Committee made a major push to members for the donations, underscoring to the conference how important holding this seat is for the party.

To be sure, outside groups are spending millions on this race, but the onus remains on the candidates to fund their own share of TV ads. Outside groups look to the candidates’ advertising to glean a tone for the campaign. Also, it is logistically difficult for an outside group to cut a positive ad for a candidate because coordination is prohibited.

The only ads that feature flattering b-roll video or a direct-to-camera pleas for votes are the candidate-sponsored spots. Sink was able to go on TV earlier than Jolly and make that positive case for herself.

Beyond that, federal law dictates that candidates receive a lower price for advertising, further enhancing Sink’s financial advantage.

Candidates (And Their Flaws) Still Matter

Both candidates have long records for opposition researchers to mine — Jolly as a lobbyist and Sink as a banking executive and Florida’s chief financial officer.

Democrats assailed Jolly for his background as a lobbyist, while Republicans say one of the party’s most effective attacks on Sink involved use of a state plane.

Don’t Just Throw Out a Charge Against an Opponent; Explain Why It Matters to the Voter

It took Democrats a few tries to hone their attack on Jolly. One Democrat involved in the race said the lobbyist tag had little effect on polling, but the numbers began to move in their favor when Democrats tied Jolly’s lobbying to issues that mattered to the voters, such as Social Security.

Narrow The Negative Attacks

Republicans say the embarrassment of opposition research riches on Sink proved problematic. Group after group hit her with charge after charge, tying her to President Barack Obama and his health care law, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Medicare cuts. They went after her political baggage and made puns with Sink’s last name.

There was so much spaghetti on the wall, one operative worried, that it all cluttered the field and hindered a specific, memorable attack from breaking through. Given the opportunity to redo, this Republican would have narrowed to one or two lines of attack.

Watch the Voting Start Date

Pinellas County has a reputation for exceptionally strong early voting via mail-in ballots. Overseas and military mail-in ballots went out Jan. 24 and domestic-voter ballots were mailed on Feb. 7.

The Republican fear is that Sink and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee were able to build a positive first impression, while a negative impression of Jolly went unanswered for far too long.

After the Jan. 14 primary, Republican outside groups waited until early February to begin an onslaught of negative advertising against Sink. The NRCC was up by late January. But from mid-January to early February, Jolly and his Republican allies were heavily outspent by Sink and the Democrats.

  • LastBestHope

    Sink is just what you’d expect from The Party. She is the prototypical liberal.

    Good God…do we need another one of them in Congress?

    The answer is 130 secs away @

  • aldfjak .

    Sink will win by a few points which in this district is a landslide

  • View From The Left

    we need folks like her to counter-balance the idiocy coming from conservatives like you!

  • LastBestHope

    He was gonna cut the deficit, He was gonna be transparent, He wasn’t gonna rest until we had jobs, He was gonna lead.

    All Big Fat Lies…and Sink will go Congress and support Him.

    Watch, Listen, Remember –

    It’s time for a Conservative.

  • SeahorseKB

    Not if I and many people I know have anything to do with it. For all you Floridians who have already lost your healthcare insurance, doctors, or medical facilities, and the millions more who will lose theirs in the near future, PLEASE do not vote for this woman. She is a multi millionaire, she can buy the best health care plan on the market. We must get this terrible, hurtful law repealed. The only way is to vote Republican.

  • Constance Phelps

    Alex Sink jumped over to Pinellas County from Hilsborough County to run so she could, (as another one of Obama’s minions get up to Congress and screw our country up just a little bit more.) (She would be in great company with the BIGGEST SCREW UP OF ALL up there in Washington. OUR PAPER TIGER!)She knows NOTHING about Pinellas County and does NOT belong here. She is simply another curse waiting to happen. She is “going to bring common sense to Congress” How long has it been since the Democrats have used any common sense in Congress? Especially to really help us common people oout? And she is going to work across the aisle? GIVE ME A BREAK!! OF COURSE SHE JUST MIGHT GET ANOTHER TAX PAID AIRPLANE AT HER DISPOSAL TO FLY AROUND IN.
    By the way when she rented her apartment over here in Pinellas County, she rented in Feather Sound, one of the most Expensive Communities you can find over here.
    She needs to go back to Hillsborough and crawl back into her hole.
    No Offense Alex, we Just do not need you in our life.

  • Lizard

    The GOPee. Koch Tools. Here is your shiney nickle, sellouts.

  • oaklanddog

    For all you Floridians who now have the opportunity to have health care without worrying about being cut off when you actually need it vote for Ms. Sink. And Seahorse, I bet you don’t mind your millionaire Governor who ripped off all those Floridians, do you?

  • SeahorseKB

    PRICELESS!!!!! Love it :)

  • LastBestHope

    Like Obama…You Lie. Period.

  • LastBestHope

    Sink campaign?…$Millions$

    Defeating the Democrat machine?…Priceless.

  • LastBestHope

    You can do it Pinellas County. San Diego shocked the Democrat Machine in a special election in February.

    “Kevin Faulconer recaptured the mayor’s office in San Diego for Republicans in a special election yesterday. The polls were skin-tight leading into yesterday’s election, and unions poured in millions to keep control in the nation’s eighth-largest city. But in the end the vaunted Obama election model — flood the zone with negative attack ads and excite the base of the Democratic party — flopped. Faulconer defeated fellow City Council member David Alvarez by nine points in a city that Barack Obama carried by 63 percent to 37 percent only 15 months ago.”

    Send Them a new message….Democrats are no longer welcome in The People’s House.

  • LastBestHope

    Constance…get everyone you know into your car and take ’em to vote. You are a great American. God Bless.

  • John Kenner

    Furthermore, since higher death taxes were among the 18 collectivist tendencies imported into the United States from fascist Europe before World War II, we should realize that they are opposed to liberty and prosperity.

  • Mike Evans

    DAVID JOLLY IS A CONSERVATIVE LOBBYIST who would vote to put oil rigs right off Pinellas County….

  • Mike Evans

    Actually everything oak said is true…You’re delusional. PERIOD,,,,

  • colleen10001

    Right now do all the chattering, whining you like, but as a small business owner, veteran and native of St.Petersburg what matters is getting Jolly in office….. My area and many relatives in the area are in danger if sink gets in and I’ll keep doing whatever I can to get Jolly in office……… help out, get David Jolly into office or shut up and the hell, out of the way. You can whine all you want after tuesday but NOW anyone that really cares about the HEALTH and ECONOMY of a great area and the great people of CD13 knows that the ONLY THING TO BE DOING NOW IS EFFORTS TO GET DAVID JOLLY IN OFFICE. !!!!! this following new report is just one of many we have to get Jolly into office…. NEW

  • Mike Evans

    How is it “shocking the Democrat Machine” for the GOP to hold a congressional seat they have had for the last 40 plus years???????

  • dnaijaman

    Gender gap will sink jolly

  • Mine

    It is pointless, they like to stomp and scream in CAPS. The election results will speak from themselves. I expect Sink will win by a small margin and the tea bag nuts will continue to stomp and cry. Perhaps then the GOP will start to see that offering up a tea bag douche of a candidate will not work!!

  • Mine

    Correct the Patient Protection law in the ACA no longer allows insurance companies to drop policy holders based on pre-existing conditions. Obviously the people posting do not care about that or are very uneducated! It is sad.

  • Mine

    I hate to break it to you but the CD13 rep will not be able to defund the ACA. The supreme court ruled on it! The Tea Party reps stomped and shouted, closed down the govt and stil, the ACA is alive and well.
    You might want put down that glass of Koch kool-aid now.

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