Republican David Jolly has scored a surprise victory in Florida’s special election to fill the seat held by the late Rep. Bill Young.
According to official figures, Jolly edged Democratic candidate Alex Sink by less than 3,500 votes — 88,294 to 84,877. Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby finished a distant third with 8,799 votes.
Jolly’s share of the vote was 48.52 percent, with Sink capturing 46.64 percent and Overby 4.84 percent.
The most recent opinion polls had Sink leading the race by between 7 and 9 percent. Sink, 65, conceded defeat shortly before 8 p.m., less than an hour after the polls had closed.
The race had become almost a referendum on Obamacare, political observers believe, although after the result was announced Jolly insisted it was more than that.
“Yes, Obamacare was an issue,” he told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. “The voters made it an issue. But at the end of the day, Obamacare represents just a view of government that has been put forward by this president that I think many people reject.”
He said people believe that there is too much government interference in ordinary citizens’ lives and Obamacare is emblematic of that. “It cripples the economy. It hurts our employment,” he said.
But Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement to The Hill, “Tonight, one of Nancy Pelosi’s most prized candidates was ultimately brought down because of her unwavering support for Obamacare, and that should be a loud warning for other Democrats running coast to coast.”
The result is a huge disappointment for Democrats who believed that Sink was the right choice in a marginal seat, political analyst and pollster Doug Schoen told Newsmax immediately after the results were announced.
“Obama won the district when he ran for president,” Schoen said in an exclusive interview. “Sink won the district when she ran for governor.
“It says to me that the Democratic brand is in trouble. Maybe not big trouble, but certainly in serious trouble.
“The Sink campaign did everything they possibly could to win and, bottom line, the sentiment against the Democrats and President Obama was the difference on the night.”
Democratic strategist Joe Trippi told Greta Van Susteren on Fox News he thought that Sink would win. “But it’s not that surprising,” he added. “Obamacare definitely was a factor.”
Trippi called Jolly’s victory “a big win for the Republicans,” adding, “but don’t read too much into it.”
And Ezekiel Emanuel, one of the architects of Obamacare told Megyn Kelly he did not think the result was a “bellwether’ on the Affordable Care Act. “This is a razor-thin election. It was a very close election on both sides,” he said.
Young, who died in October after nearly 42 years in the House, was also a Republican. The election to replace him in the 13th District, located in the St. Petersburg and Clearwater area drew national attention as it became focused on healthcare instead of local issues as both parties tested their campaign strategies ahead of the midterm elections in November.
The Sunlight Foundation, which keeps tabs on government information, reports that more than $11 million was spent on the race.
With Barack Obama in the final three years of his presidency, this year’s elections are expected to be tight, particularly in the Senate, where Republicans are hoping to regain control. The GOP needs six seats to take over the majority.
The Florida election served as an audition for how the campaigns could play out this year. Healthcare will be the main topic of conversation and debate.
Jolly, 41, worked as general counsel to Young before becoming a lobbyist. He ran under the premise of getting rid of the healthcare law. Sink labeled him an extremist, saying he wants to bring the nation back to the time when insurance companies would deny citizens with pre-existing conditions.
In a speech at his Clearwater Beach campaign headquarters in which he was introduced by former “Price is Right” host Bob Barker via video, Jolly thanked his supporters and looked forward to his new job in the House.
“This race is not about defending a broken agenda in Washington or advancing a broken agenda in Washington,” he said. “This race is about serving the people in our own community. Let’s dispense with the rancor and vitriol of the last five months.”
Sink addressed her supporters, who cast a somber tone in a half-empty ballroom, at her St. Petersburg headquarters after conceding defeat.
“We know that life brings many challenges. It brings many opportunities. My values have always been to do good for my family and for my community,” said Sink, the former CFO of the state of Florida and the Democratic nominee in the 2010 governor’s race. “We don’t know what the future holds, but I’ll do what I’ve always done and continue to serve my community.”
Both Democrats and Republicans used the race to audition national campaign strategies for the fall elections.
In the final days, the Sink campaign called in former President Bill Clinton to rally support, while the Jolly campaign hosted a telephone conference call with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican and 2012 vice presidential nominee.