Roll Call, January 9, 2014: The race Democrats can’t afford to lose.
It’s rare in politics that anything other than a presidential contest is viewed as a “must win” — but the special election in Florida’s 13th District falls into that category for Democrats.
A loss in the competitive March 11 contest would almost certainly be regarded by dispassionate observers as a sign that President Barack Obama could constitute an albatross around the neck of his party’s nominees in November. And that could make it more difficult for Democratic candidates, campaign committees and interest groups to raise money and energize the grass roots.
Fundamentally, the district, left vacant by the death of longtime Republican Rep. C.W. Bill Young, looks competitive but has a slight Democratic tinge. Barack Obama carried it 52 percent to 48 percent in 2008, but he had a more narrow victory four years later, when he won 50 percent to 49 percent.
But fundamentals are only a small part of the Democratic advantage in the district this year. Campaign-related factors should strongly benefit the Democrats, as well.
Still, all things being equal, Sink has enough advantages to produce a narrow but clear victory. So, while a victory would constitute a takeover and give her party’s talking heads an opportunity to demonize the Republicans in Congress once again, it would not be surprising.
On the other hand, since most nonpartisan handicappers and analysts have for years expected this seat to go Democratic when it became open, a Republican victory in March would likely say something about the national political environment and the inclination of district voters to send a message of dissatisfaction about the president. And that possibility should worry the White House.
The National Republican Congressional Committee would love to keep this Florida seat in the special election. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee cannot afford to lose it. Those are two very different perspectives that reflect the relative importance of this election to the two parties.
While the Democrats surely agreed with Roll Call’s assessment back then, today, the morning after their loss, they dismiss the significance of a “fluke” election.