“What happened last night in Florida was really scary,” the Democratic National Committee wrote its online donors Wednesday afternoon. The fundraising pitch was referring to the role millions in outside spending had played in their Saint Petersburg-area special election loss Tuesday night. But the scary thing for them was the result, not the money.
The seat being contested this week was in a fair-fight district President Obama had carried twice. Democrats spent more money (including all that outside cash), and yet their hand-picked, well-known and experienced candidate lost to a corporate lobbyist who was freshly divorced, with young girlfriend in tow, and who (as it came out amid the campaign's dirty laundry) had killed someone in a car accident 25 years ago. (The accident wasn't deemed his fault, but you can imagine what such a story does in the last weeks of a heated campaign.) Not only that, but a third-party libertarian spoiler managed to draw an impressive 5 percent of the vote.
Everyone wants to spin this race, and its significance should not be overestimated. All the Democrats lost Tuesday was a pickup opportunity - but then again, it was a more promising pickup opportunity than perhaps 25 out of the 30 or so Republican House districts they have announced they are targeting this fall.
Democrats would have liked to hold up Tuesday night's result as proof of life ahead of the 2014 midterms. But if they couldn't win this seat with the advantages they had, can they compete for seats in Montana or conservative southern New Mexico or central Michigan? Can they hold on to crucial Senate seats in red states like Arkansas and Louisiana?
As Yahoo's Chris Moody put it, the Florida race was really an “Obamacare messaging test” whose first round the GOP narrowly passed. The Republican candidate talked about canceled health plans and Medicare Advantage cuts. The Democrat talked about mending the law, not ending it, and about the benefits it will create by incentivizing some workers to work less - and she watched her early lead evaporate and she lost by two points.
If Democrats are wise, the Florida result will lead them to evaluate how much damage they can mitigate in 2014. This week's Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, aside from its record low approval rating for President Obama (41 percent), contains several warnings and perhaps a few hints. For one thing, more Americans see the nation on the wrong track (65 percent), and fewer see it on the right track (26 percent), than at any time in 2010.
More bad news: An endorsement from Obama is one of the worst misfortunes that can befall Democratic candidates, making a plurality “less likely” to support them. And anti-incumbent fervor in March 2014 far outstrips that of 2006, when voters only marginally frowned upon sitting officeholders. This time, it carries a disadvantage three times as large (net 17 points less likely to support).
But there are silver linings for Democrats as well. Bill Clinton is second only to Pope Francis in terms of the reverence with which Americans hold him, and his endorsement (though not his wife's) tends to help Democratic candidates. And the same poll suggests the Tea Party is toxic as well - in terms of net marginal support, almost exactly as toxic as Obama himself.
In short, there might be hope for Democrats who substantively criticize Obama and Obamacare, draw Tea Party opponents, and bring in Bubba to campaign.DAVID FREDDOSO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is the former Editorial Page Editor for the Examiner and the New York Times-bestselling author of "Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Re-elect Barack Obama." He has also written two other books, "The Case Against Barack Obama" (2008) and "Gangster Government" (2011).