Republicans won in Florida’s 13th district special congressional election on Tuesday. What does this mean?
Here is the key point about why the Republican candidate, David Jolly, won: More Republican voters went to the polls and voted than Democrat voters. The Republican won by about 3,400 votes out of about 183,000 votes cast. Turnout was 58 percent in precincts Romney won in 2012, and 48.5 percent in precincts Obama won in 2012. There were 49,000 fewer people who voted in this election than in the 2010 general mid-term election (down 21 percent), and 158,500 fewer than in the 2012 Presidential (down 46 percent). So it was the failure to get Democratic voters to show up that lost them the election.
The obvious conclusion is that Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate, did not give Democratic voters sufficient reason and motivation to show up and vote. If just a few more Democrats – 3,400 – had decided to show up and vote the election would have gone the other way.
Factors and Non-Factors
Obamacare? Maybe not. According to David Weigel at Slate, “both rejected the national “narrative” that the race was a clear referendum on Obamacare.”
It wasn’t spending. Outside groups showed up and helped the Democrat, balancing out the usually enormous Republican spending advantage.
Medicare counted. Republicans accused Democrats of “$716 in Medicare Cuts.” This was the same theme that shifted the 2010 election to Republicans, and it helped again.
The Democrats fell short in getting their absentee voters to mail in their ballots. According to Sean Sullivan at The Washington Post, the Democratic candidate “did not build a big enough lead in absentee voting to prevail on election day.”
It’s The Base
Republican strategy is to feed red meat to “the base” to whip them up and get them to show up, (and do what they can to suppress Democratic turnout). In this race the Republican candidate ran to the right. Kartik Krishnaiyer of The Florida Squeeze, in a great analysis of the election, wrote that “this is the furthest right a GOP candidate had run in the area” in 60 years.
The Republican appeared on and was promoted by FOX News.
Apparently Sink tried to “appeal to the middle,” thinking this would bring in “moderate” and “independent” voters who are thought to be “between” the left and the right. Her website emphasized “breaking the gridlock in Congress,” and offers, “I’ve proven again and again that Republicans and Democrats can work together to get things done.”
The website also emphasizes “cutting wasteful government spending” and “introducing performance metrics to hold government accountable for waste and abuse and creating the right fiscal environment for businesses to create jobs.”
So the Democratic candidate decided not to appeal to base Democratic voters, instead hoping to “reach across the aisle” to bring in “centrist” and “moderate” voters instead. One way or another this “appeal to the middle” failed to bring enough “moderate” voters to the polls to overcome the left-leaning voters it repelled.
Democrats Let It Happen
Thomas Frank summed up the problem in “The matter with Kansas now: The Tea Party, the 1 percent and delusional Democrats” at Salon. The subhead is “Democrats believe demographics alone will defeat the Tea Party. It’s a smug fantasy: Economic populism’s the answer.”
Even more alarming for Democrats were the stark implications of “Kansas” for their grand strategy of “centrism.” As I tried to make plain back in 2004, the big political change of the last 40 years didn’t happen solely because conservatives invented catchy conspiracy theories, but also because Democrats let it happen. Democrats essentially did nothing while their pals in organized labor were clubbed to the ground; they leaped enthusiastically into action, however, when it was time to pass NAFTA and repeal Glass-Steagall. Working-class voters had nowhere else to go, they seem to have calculated, and — whoops! — they were wrong. The Kansas story represented all their decades of moderating and capitulating and triangulating coming back to haunt them.
If Democrats don’t give regular, working people – the Democratic base – a reason to vote, then they won’t. In Florida’s 13th District, 3,400 of them decided there was not enough reason to bother.