What Jolly's Win May Mean
What does the Republican victory in Florida’s 13th Congressional District mean for November?
The Democrats ought to have won this race. Pinellas County is Democrat country. Many pundits have noted that Obama carried Pinellas County in both of his presidential runs and that Alex Sink carried the district when she ran for governor in 2010, but such analyses understate how consistently Democrat Pinellas County has been in the last dozen years.
Since 2002 there have been ten presidential, gubernatorial, and Senate elections in Florida. Democrats have carried Pinellas County in the last five of those elections and have carried Pinellas County in seven out of these ten elections. In only three elections have Republicans won this county. In each case – Charlie Crist in the 2006 gubernatorial race, George Bush in the 2004 presidential race, and Jeb Bush in the 2002 gubernatorial race – Pinellas County gave the Democrat candidate a higher percentage of the vote than the Democrat got in the statewide Florida vote.
Pinellas County is not only more Democrat than the rest of Florida, but more Democrat than the nation as a whole. In the last five presidential elections – from 1996 through 2012 – Pinellas County has given the Democrat presidential candidate a higher percentage of the vote than that candidate won statewide in Florida or in the national popular vote.
In a normal election, if the Democrats nominated a popular, well-known moderate politician in a Democrat congressional district with an open seat, and if that candidate campaigned hard with lots of money and the Democrat leadership behind her, then the result should be foreordained. Instead, not only did Sink lose the popular vote in the special election, but because a Libertarian candidate, whose supporters are surely more hostile to ObamaCare than even Republican voters are, gained 5% of the vote, Sink ran far behind the historic Democrat vote in past elections.
There are interesting parallels between this 2014 Democrat defeat in Florida’s 13th Congressional District and the defeats Democrats suffered in House special elections in the months before the 1994 midterm-election Republican landslide. In both instances, the Democrat candidates ought to have won, if the normal political reflexes of voters had operated in the elections. In both instances, the national Democratic Party was forced to defend federally run health care schemes – ObamaCare in 2014 and HillaryCare in 1994. In both instances, the congressional special elections showed a clear shift of about 5% of the electorate away from historic support for Democrats to new support for Republicans.
That 5% shift may not sound like much, but a national shift of that much could be the difference between picking up six or seven Senate seats – a narrow majority that could be lost in the 2016 election – and a dozen or more Senate seats, which would be enough to force Obama’s last two years into a dreary process of reactive vetoes, and which would guarantee that a Republican president elected in 2016 would be able to pass enact revolutionary changes in federal law.
That 5% would be enough to sweep Republicans into control of dozens of state legislatures, which would mean that Right to Work laws, school choice statutes, state tax reduction and reform, and other changes could put the left on the defensive in many states that today the left rules by the acquiescence of conservatives. Winning even more secondary statewide offices would mean that officials like the secretary of state or state attorney general, positions which have vital roles in the battle against voter fraud, will fall into the hands of Republicans.
In fact, the 2014 midterm may end up looking less like the 1994 midterm twenty years ago and more like the 1974 midterm twenty years before the 1994 landslide. In the second midterm of Richard Nixon’s presidency, his party had to face voters who were not only angry at the failure of Nixon’s policies, but appalled by Nixon’s understanding of the constitutional role of Congress and the presidency (doesn’t that sound familiar?). In 1974, Republicans were swept out of power almost everywhere, regardless of the attractiveness of their candidates or even the funding of their campaigns.
Although Obama is much dumber than Nixon, the isolation, the unhappiness of the president’s congressional party, the corrosion of congressional power by an imperial presidency, and the utter inability of the president to grasp the profound restiveness of voters may make 2014 the grounds for a genuine pivot in American politics. If so, then Jolly’s victory in Florida is just the first blast of a loud trumpet.