Helen Aguirre Ferre

GOP can’t be complacent despite District 13 victory

The tide may be turning against Democrats. As much as the White House tries to deny it, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) played an important role in the defeat of Democrat Alex Sink to Republican David Jolly in the special election of District 13 to replace Republican Congressman C.W. Bill Young, who passed away four months ago.

The closely watched race in Pinellas County, which President Obama won twice and Sink once when she ran against Gov. Rick Scott, is considered by many to be an early indicator of what can be expected from the midterm elections in November.

If trends continue, Democrats may be in trouble, seeing losses similar to those that they suffered in 2010.

A revealing WSJ/NBC poll shows Obama’s disapproval rating climbing to 54 percent, and Democrats are publicly and privately worried that the ACA presents more challenges for midterm elections than they previously thought.

This must have former Gov. Charlie Crist worried. Just last Sunday he was on CNN urging fellow Democrats to show strong support for President Obama and his signature healthcare legislation, which Crist believes will ultimately be immensely popular.


Vulnerable Democrats are scrambling to find a smart strategy to deal with what they know is a seriously flawed piece of legislation that has not fulfilled what was promised.

An important number of people found that as a result of ACA they lost the medical plan and doctor they enjoyed. Others found that the premiums might have been low enough, but the deductible costs are prohibitive. In addition, the website continues to present challenges, and the process is cumbersome. That is far from what was promised. As a result, Democrats are divided as to what to do.

Some will be embracing ACA as Crist advocates, but many are already openly critical.

In an interview with Politico, Rep. Ron Barber, a Democrat from Tucson, Ariz., laments that his party is not honest about ACA’s flaws and work to fix it. That sounds right, but it did not work for Sink.

Just a few months ago, Sink was considered the favorite in this race. She had greater name recognition, raised more money than her opponent and had a better organization than Jolly. She admitted ACA needed fixing, but the solutions she presented did not address the real problem of cost and access. What went wrong?

National polls have been fairly consistent that voters feel uncomfortable with the direction in which the country is moving and are particularly worried about the economy and job security. As a former chief financial officer of Florida and a banker, Sink should have had an advantage in assuaging voters’ fears, but the baggage from the Obama administration, perhaps, was more than she could carry. Democrats did not go out and vote for Sink like Republicans did for Jolly.

Jolly was not expected to win just a few months ago, but he knew how to articulate a campaign message that appealed to his conservative base, which is important considering that special elections draw very low voter turnout.

He knew how to do it because he is not new to politics. He worked as an aide to Rep. Young and was a former lobbyist. He used Obamacare effectively as an example of everything that is wrong in Washington.

Jolly won an important victory, but Republicans would be wise to see this election for what it is.

Yes, it is a big loss for Democrats. The WSJ/NBC poll demonstrates that 65 percent of those polled feel the country is headed in the wrong direction and that they are less inclined to vote for someone who is endorsed by President Obama or who solidly supported his administration.

But for Republicans the news is also bad. Only 34 percent said they would reelect their member of Congress and 54 percent said they would replace all members of Congress if given the chance to do so.

Voters will challenge the GOP. They want government to be smart and efficient. Does this describe Congress?

There is something for both sides to learn from District 13, especially as Republicans have a real chance to win the majority in the Senate. Although much can change from here to November, if the midterm elections were held today, Democrats would likely lose.