On Tuesday, voters in Florida’s 13th District will select a replacement for the late GOP Rep. Bill Young, who represented the St. Petersburg-based district for decades. Democrats secured their top recruit, Alex Sink, former financial officer for the state, who narrowly lost the Governor’s race in 2010. Long-time Young aide, Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) won the GOP primary. Democrats entered the race with the clear edge.
Republicans hold a slight registration edge over Democrats in the district, but a large number of independent voters make this a political rarity-a very competitive district. While the long-serving Young safely won reelection regularly, President Obama won the seat in both 2012 and 2008.
Having narrowly lost a run for Governor, Sink enjoyed greater name recognition than Jolly and was spared a primary fight. Sink also has enjoyed a fundraising edge over Jolly, an advantage that was somewhat mitigated by outside spending on behalf of Jolly. Over $9 million has been spent by outside groups in the race. Adding in spending by the candidates themselves brings total spending in the race to around $12 million.
Jolly’s resume also gave the Democrats something of an edge. A long-time Congressional staffer turned lobbyist, Jolly may have just about the worst work history for today’s political environment. While Republicans tried to make Sink’s residency an issue — she until very recently lived outside the district — Jolly’s long-time association with Washington somewhat blunts that attack.
In spite of the Democrat advantages in the race, recent polling has pointed to a very close election. In early February, a poll by a local newspaper showed Sink with a 7-point lead. A poll sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce just over a week ago, however, showed the race a toss-up, with Jolly enjoying a within-the-margin-of-error 2-point lead. The most recent poll, from Democrat firm PPP on behalf of the left-wing League of Conservation Voters, showed Sink with a 3-point lead over Jolly, 48-45%.
Over 100,000 votes have already been cast in the race. Republicans may have a slight edge in this vote. Of the early ballots cast, 42% came from registered Republicans, 38% from Democrats and 20% from Independents. How the independents break in these early votes will likely decide the race.
One worrying point for Republicans is that, just a few days ago, anonymous national GOP sources complained to Politico about the competence of the Jolly campaign. The NRCC spent more than $2 million on the race and some GOP operatives may have been trying to lower the expectations for today’s vote. Controlled leaks just days before polls open is not the hallmark of political confidence.
The stakes, though, are higher for Democrats than Republicans. They got their top recruit, the district is trending Democrat, and the GOP nominee is a DC insider at a time when that resume is political kyrptonite. Additionally, a period of Republican finger-pointing began before the voters even went to the polls. A Democrat loss in this district would signal a very rough election for Democrats in November.
If Democrats can’t win this seat, in these circumstances, the party is in for a very long Fall.