David Jolly defeats Alex Sink – Ominous lessons for Democrats in CD-13 loss


Tuesday’s Special Election defeat for Democrat Alex Sink in Florida’s 13th Congressional District holds several lessons for the Democratic party going forward. Three weeks ago we were hearing about problems with the campaign which we highlighted in this article. That article got lots of push back from Democrats throughout the state, but as the election drew nearer our sources were reporting to us the same issues as three weeks ago. Nonetheless, hope springs eternal and the thinking was that Sink would underperform but still win by a small margin. Unfortunately, we were wrong.

The national narrative is about the Affordable Care Act being unpopular. From my vantage point that is not the biggest issue. Here are some quick thoughts.

  • Message – Running a campaign designed to woo independent voters and some Republicans in what is essentially a turnout war is foolish. Instead of doubling down in defense of the Affordable Care Act, the candidate began by conceding problems existed with it. This is in direct contrast to what potential Democratic Gubernatorial nominees Charlie Crist and Nan Rich are saying. A failure to convincingly highlight senior and veterans issues made a difference in this race. White (non-Jewish) voters in these areas tend to focus on senior, military, health and environmental issues. The Democratic messaging on all these things was poor, and the attacks on Jolly related to Social Security and Medicare flat out did not work. This is an old Democratic trick/scare tactic in Florida. More often than not it is not working anymore.
  • Demographics – Florida Democrats have a problem in coastal districts which have been traditionally Republican even if they vote for Democrats at the very top of the ticket. This has been apparent in State House and Senate districts in coastal areas for sometime. It has been a problem for many years in the Broward-Palm Beach coastal seats which lie within traditionally Republican parts of Democratic counties and continues to be a problem in Pinellas. While the nation may be becoming less white as a whole, the inability of Democrats to consistently win in white middle-class areas in Florida where voters tend to sit in the middle or lean left is a problem.
  • Money – Democrats long complain about being outspent, often using it as an excuse for poor election results. While the Republicans and their right-wing allies spent a ton of money, the Democrats and aligned outside groups actually spent close to a million dollars more according to The Hotline. So the tired old complaint about money does not apply in this election.
  • Base turnout – Once again Florida Democrats believed winning “moderates” and “independents” was the key. This being a Special Election turning out the base was always going to be the ball game. Despite a massive campaign effort that was better funded than the opposition, the Democrats lost. The Republican nominee despite being shunned by large elements of his party’s establishment ran further to the right than William Cramer or Bill Young ever did (the Republican holders of this seat for the last 60 years) and won.
  • Tough year ahead – While many Democrats across the state are hoping for a big year privately many insiders I speak to would simply like to come back to Tallahassee with as many legislators and send the same number of members of Congress to Washington. After last night, that looks like the best the Democrats may be able to hope for.

Going back to my time in the Young Democrats during the mid 1990s, the Bill Young seat was talked about as one that would flip for certain when he passed away or retired. Pinellas County has been trending towards the Democrats for twenty years. But the Republicans remain a formidable force locally, something reinforced in legislative elections. Somehow in this the most environmentally conscious of counties the Democrats managed to find a way to lose to a Republican who said the Federal Government has no role in the Climate Change debate. That in itself is an accomplishment of dubious distinction, and reinforced why many local Republicans were petrified of Jolly being nominated.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz the Chair of the DNC tweeted that this has been a Republican seat for 60 years. What she did not mention is that this is the furthest right a GOP candidate had run in the area in that period and that the Democrats have won this district at the top of the ticket in the last three election cycles (2008, 2010 and 2012).

Just last week Wasserman-Schultz said “A victory for sink, all but assured according to our numbers, means a victory for those who embrace the ACA and believe it to be the best thing to happen to America since Social Security.”

What a difference a week and sobering dose of reality makes.


  1. Blue Dog Dem · ·

    The great Dylan Sumner strikes again! I’d love to see what over-priced mail he ran in this campaign.


    1. Floridian · ·

      It is funny you mention this because I was going to say the same thing. Employing the same vendors over and over again who do nothing but lose races and yet charge the candidates an inordinate amount of money is just the definition of insanity.

      Stopping the rot of the Florida Democratic Party and Florida Democratic candidates will not happen until there is a competitive bidding process for vendors.

      The Republicans have a competitive process. Why don’t we? I understand they are the party of free enterprise but we are the party of democracy. We sure don’t act Democratic when it comes to this stuff.


  2. The state party is a joke. The DCCC an even bigger joke. We got slaughtered in Election Day turnout.

    2014 is going to be a long and horrible year.


  3. Message – I think Dave Trotter said this a few years ago on the old Hurricane site – you can’t expect Dems to turn out to vote for a wishy washy, apologetic, watered down, stand for nothing candidate.

    Turnout – looks like the minority areas voted in very low numbers. You woulda thought they’d have spent some of that $5 million on messaging to those voters and GOTV. Back again to the message – what was in it for them? Instead, Sink tried to pick off some of the older Republicans, who aren’t about to change their voting habits


  4. I do think this election results reflect on the poor candidate Alex sink fla party led by Alison Tant and the dysfunctional national party led by Debbie Wasserman Schultz. DWS own comments were comical.


  5. Mark Lynn · ·

    It should be noted that no Democrat has won this congressional district in 62 years!! Congressman Courtney Campbell was the last, serving one term from 1952-54, being defeated by William C. Cramer in 1954.


  6. A seat that we long thought would flip. It simply didn’t happen. Score another one for party incompetence on every level.


  7. Pinellas Voter · ·

    If this doesn’t wake up Florida Democrats what will? There should be a chorus of chants demanding Allison Tant’s resignation. Although it is probably to late to save 2014 we have to build for 2015 and 2016.

    It’s laughable the Florida Democratic Party is distancing it’s self from this election. They were very much a part of the message strategy, targeting and their vendors were profiting from the campaign.

    Now there are folks that should be outraged defending the party. Shameful.


    1. Bruce Borkosky · ·

      Shameful – yep. Worse yet, they don’t see it. It’s self delusion. IMO they truly believe they are on the right path. Even when reality hits em on the head.


  8. […] 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 […]


  9. […] 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 […]


  10. […] 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 […]


  11. floridian · ·

    Charlie Crist better spend the next 8 months in the central and southeastern part of FL campaigning for votes. Seriously. We must build a GOTV effort…N O W!


  12. demdaysi · ·

    In the real world, Alison Tant would be fired right now for losing a big client/candidate race. Her staff should follow: Arceneaux, Ulvert and Pellito. As a matter of fact they are the only people left in the FDP headquarters. They’ve fired all of the other staff who knew what needed to be done.


    1. What staff are you referring to?


    2. Blue Dog Dem · ·

      In the real world with the record of failure this party has it would not only be Tant who is a petty liar but Ulvert, Sumner, Arcenuaux, and the horrible polling by Hamilton. When leaders, vendors and consultants lose races in other parties or lose accounts/clients in real business they are fired.

      Tant’s comical press shop that’s more worried about twitter followers than voter contact should also be shown the door.

      She was never right for chair but Clendenin wasn’t exactly a good choice either with a clown like Barry Edwards behind him. But Tant’s actions since becoming chair show she should be shown the door ASAP so long as a new chair takes out the trash she will leave behind.


  13. […] 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 […]


  14. Blue Dog Dem · ·

    My point is the Florida Democratic Party is the only business in the capitalist society where you can continue to fail year after year and not face any ramifications for failure.


  15. […] Care Act and school “choice” were discussed. On Obamacare, Crist refused to repeat the mistakes of Alex Sink and dug in supporting the program. Regarding school vouchers, Crist was wishy washy and evasive. […]


  16. […] last month. We’ve written extensively about the failures of the Sink campaign, who blew double-digit lead to lose on Election Day. The role of the Florida Democratic Party and Democratic Congressional Campaign […]


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