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POLITICS: PennAve

With loss in Florida special election, Democrats look to regroup

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Congress,Democratic Party,Florida,2014 Elections,Campaigns,PennAve,Rebecca Berg,DCCC,Alex Sink,David Jolly

Democrats did not lose a congressional seat Tuesday in a high-wattage special election in Florida, but the party's somber steps Wednesday toward regrouping seemed to belie that reality.

Just months ago, many predicted that Alex Sink, a Democrat, would trounce her Republican opponent, David Jolly, in a race to fill the seat left empty by the death of Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., in Octorber. Although Young had served Florida's 13th Congressional District for nearly six decades, the demographics of the district had been gradually shifting in Democrats' favor, and President Obama won the district in each of his presidential races.

But the prognosis for Democrats shifted quickly from overwhelmingly positive to something altogether grim when, on Tuesday night, Sink lost. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee scrambled to reflect upon the race as having been an uphill battle for Democrats.

"Sink proved that even in this challenging environment, Democrats can not only put the race in play but can compete for the seat in the friendlier midterm environment in less than eight months," read a DCCC memo released late Tuesday.

Sink out-raised and out-spent Jolly, and Democratic groups, including House majority PAC, managed to out-pace big-spending Republican ones, such as the Chamber of Commerce. But Sink was also saddled with a difficult message: defending the president's signature health care law.

"Alex Sink's loss is devastating for Democrats because her playbook is the same as the DSCC's," read an National Republican Senatorial Committee email Wednesday.

Indeed, Sink adopted a message on health care that many other Democratic candidates have already been floating: that the law is imperfect, but fixing it is better than abolishing it entirely.

In light of Sink's loss, there will likely be room for Democrats to evaluate that message. But public pronouncements by Democrats regarding voter turnout were, by and large, the most alarmist.

"The takeaway from the special in Florida is that Democrats will need to invest heavily in a national field program in order to win in November," said Matt Canter, deputy executive director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The DSCC has announced previously that it plans to invest $60 million in a voter-turnout scheme called the Bannock Street Project, which will seek to replicate the turnout of a presidential election year to boost Democratic candidates.

In Florida's 13th Congressional District, voting fell on Tuesday by 21 percent from its 2010 level, and by 46 percent from the 2012 presidential election — a starkly troubling statistic for Democrats.

"I think there’s still a lot for Democrats to look at here and feel positive about," said Doug Thornell, a former DCCC spokesperson now with SKDKnickerbocker. "It's going to be an uphill climb, clearly, but I don’t believe tactically or in terms of overall strategy that what happened yesterday is a serious alarm for the party."

"What it tells me," Thornell added, "is that we need to work on turnout."

If the result in Florida can be extrapolated toward any larger political trend, however, it is likely that Democrats hold very slim chance of competing for a House majority in 2014, and will need to turn their attention to maintaining control of the Senate.

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Rebecca Berg

Political Correspondent
The Washington Examiner