(Adds quote from RNC chairman Priebus, adds comments from
By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Fla., March 11 Republican David Jolly
won an expensive battle to fill a vacant U.S. Congressional seat
in a special election watched by both major parties for what it
portends for November when all 435 congressional seats will be
up for grabs.
Jolly, 41, defeated Democrat challenger Alex Sink, 65, a
former state chief financial officer, by 3,500 votes or a 1.87
percent margin - 48.43 percent to 46.56 percent, according to
the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections website.
Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby took 4.83 percent of the
Republicans were quick to declare the result a repudiation
of President Obama's Affordable Healthcare Act, known as
Jolly's victory "shows that voters are looking for
representatives who will fight to end the disaster of Obamacare,
to get Washington to spend our money responsibly," Republican
National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement.
Jolly did not mention Obamacare in his victory speech and
said that his margin of victory was too slim to "take a mandate
In his victory speech, Jolly spurned national attention on
the election. "This race is not about defending a broken agenda
in Washington," he told supporters. "This race is about ....
serving the people right here in our own community."
Sink had held a slight lead in the polls throughout the
campaign against Jolly, a Republican lobbyist in Washington,
D.C., but may have been hurt by poor turnout of 39 percent, far
below the 2012 election.
Florida's is a big swing state, with 27 seats in the House
of Representatives, tied with New York state for the third
largest delegation in the nation, and behind only California and
A Democratic victory would have been a major blow to the
Republican party heading into the fall mid-term elections, as
well as the next presidential race in 2016. Democrats hold the
advantage in the more liberal south of the state and Republicans
prevail in the conservative north, while central Florida is more
The Tampa area Gulf Coast district has been a comfortable
Republican seat for decades, held for more than 40 years by
Jolly's former boss, U.S. Representative C.W. Bill Young, a
Republican who died in October aged 82.
Young won the seat in 2012 by almost 50,000 votes and a
margin of 15 percent. However, the district was won by President
Barack Obama in 2012, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Voters were hit with more than $10 million worth of
television advertising and other campaign material financed in
large part by the national parties and partisan groups hoping a
victory in this race will signal the prospect of a bigger win in
the November mid-term elections.
"You can see the handprints of the national parties all over
the race," said Susan MacManus, a longtime political analyst and
professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
"It almost seems as if the 2012 presidential race never
ended, and just the faces and the district changed."
Sink slammed Jolly as a Washington lobbyist for special
interests, while Jolly fired back at Sink for being close to
President Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Republicans hold a 2.4 percent edge in voter registration in
Florida's congressional district 13, which lies within Pinellas
County on the state's west coast.
MacManus said an early focus on Obamacare got little
traction because older voters were not affected. Sink switched
to criticizing Jolly for representing a client who wanted to
privatize Social Security and turn Medicare into a voucher
program, changes Jolly said he does not support.
"This is a strategy I think Democrats are looking at
nationally to change the focus from Obamacare to Social Security
and Medicare," MacManus said.
Following the election, MacManus expects both parties to use
the Tampa Bay area, the nation's 10th largest television market
and home to 25 percent of all registered Florida voters, as a
political laboratory to conduct focus group surveys on the
It was a crushing defeat for Sink who narrowly lost the
election for state governor in 2010 against Republican Rick
Sink conceded victory soon after the results were announced
but did not say whether she will challenge Jolly again in
November when his seat is up again for election.
(Writing by David Adams; Editing by Ken Wills)