In view of Richard Jolly’s March 11 win over Alex Sink in Florida’s 13th Congressional District special election, much speculation is being flung about as to what this means for November. The first election during an election season will invariably spawn tales of woe (from the losers) and glee (from the winners), but there are some interesting factors in this race worth examining.
For one thing, Florida’s 13th was won by President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, and Alex Sink was hand-picked by the Democrats – and generously supported by them – to hold the seat. Richard Jolly isn’t a particularly good candidate, and is (hide your children) a lobbyist. Ms Sink had narrowly missed being elected governor, and enjoys wide name recognition. All of this went into a confidence among Democrats that she would defeat Mr Jolly. She lost 49% to 47%, even though there was also a Libertarian candidate in the race (4% of the vote). Republicans, of course, say that Ms Sink actually lost 53% to 47%, and that’s hard to dispute. Also, much was made in the media during the campaign that it was a referendum on ObamaCare, although neither candidate made that claim.
What’s at stake in November is the ability of Republicans to win a net of six Senate seats in order to take control of that body, removing Democratic control of any of the legislative agenda, formally reducing the president to lame duck status. This will be a turnout election – GOP voters are energized by opposition to Obama and his healthcare charade, and Democrats seem depressed by the tide of events. Since World War II, a presidential election typically generates a 63% turnout, while midterms average ~48%, and a low overall turnout is expected to help Republicans, as their percentage should be higher than Democrats’. Also worrying for Democrats is the post-World War II trend of a president’s favorable rating impacting midterm elections results – if a sitting president enjoys favorables over 50%, the party in power generally loses only 14 House seats, but below 50%, the average is a loss of 36. I have been unable to find a comparable statistic for the Senate, but doubt that is substantially different. President Obama’s favorables are hovering between 43% and 39%. And finally, Democrats are defending twenty of the thirty-three Senate seats (61%) up for election this cycle.
According to Larry Sabato’s political science unit at the University of Virginia, four Democratic seats are now leaning Republican – Arkansas, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, with no Republican seats leaning Democratic. Thrown into the mix are New Hampshire (where former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown is leaning toward challenging sitting Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen) and Colorado (where Republican US Representative Cory Gardner is challenging Democratic Senator Mark Udall). Mr Sabato also lists Alaska’s Democratically held seat as a toss-up.
Right now, Real Clear Politics averages show a nationwide Democrat lead of 0.6% in generic congressional preference, which encompasses 435 House races and 33 Senate races. There will be no substantive polling done in each state until primaries are over, and indeed, the Republicans have shown a talent for shooting themselves in the foot by nominating some questionable candidates to run against Democrats – for example, Sharron Angle (the only person in Nevada who couldn’t beat Harry Reid in 2010).