Democrats lose Florida swing district ahead of elections

David Jolly wins seat in district Obama won twice in in presidential elections

The Democrats have lost an election in a swing congressional district in Florida that Barack Obama won twice in in presidential elections, in what is seen as a harbinger of the November elections to determine control of the US Congress.

Republican David Jolly, a political lobbyist in Washington, narrowly edged out Democrat Alex Sink, a former state chief financial officer, by 48.4 per cent to 46.6 per cent, or just 3,500 votes, to take the House of Representatives seat held by the late Bill Young, a Republican, for 42 years, in a special election that was called after Young died of cancer in October.

Mid-term battle
The closely watched ballot is a preview of the mid-term election battle ahead. Jolly made the Affordable Care Act – President Obama's signature healthcare law , which is deeply unpopular among Republicans – the key issue in a campaign that drew support from party grandees such as former Democratic president Bill Clinton and former Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

Jolly, a former aide to Young, was not as well known as the better-funded Sink, but campaigned for a repeal of the healthcare law, the most sweeping piece of social legislation to pass in the US in generations. He claimed in one advert that Sink would undermine Medicare, government healthcare for the elderly, due to Democratic cuts tied to Obamacare, as his healthcare law is more popularly known.


Played on fears
The campaign played on the fears of constituents in the Tampa Bay area district, where more than one in four registered voters are over the age of 65, and harnessed the anger of Republican and swing voters who see Obamacare as a symptom of over-reaching government, which will lead to job losses.

The parties spent more than $12 million on the campaign in the evenly divided district, according to disclosure reports compiled by the Centre for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based independent research group that tracks expenditure on elections. This is about six times the average campaign spend for a seat in the House of Representatives and a record for a special election.

Republican national committee chairman Reince Priebus used Jolly's victory to play up the party's chances in November as it seeks to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats and consolidate the Grand Old Party's majority in the House.

Fight Obamacare
"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.

Republicans need to win six seats to take control of the Senate, making Congress even more disruptive for President Obama in his second-term legislative objectives.

The party has identified vulnerable Democrat Senators in states that traditionally vote Republican in presidential races – Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Pryor in Arkansas and John Walsh in Montana – and seats vacated by retiring Democrats Carl Levin in Michigan and Jay Rockefeller in West Virginia.

In a further setback for Democrats ahead of this year's elections, Obama's job approval rating fell to 41 per cent, the lowest of his five- year presidency, in a poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News.

Republicans will try to capitalise on the president’s low popularity by campaigning on Obamacare, an issue that swept many conservative Republican and far-right Tea Party candidates to power in 2010.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times