With Republican David Jolly's victory Tuesday in Florida's 13th Congressional District, national Republicans say making the midterm elections a referendum on repealing Obamacare is a winning strategy for the GOP in 2014.
In pulling off a dramatic come-from-behind victory in the first special House election of the year, Jolly ran as a fervent supporter of repealing and replacing Obamacare.
His win is likely to convince other GOP hopefuls and the national party strategists that this is the right path to take for a big win in midterm elections this fall.
In contrast, the "fix-it-don't-repeal-it" stand of losing Democrat Alex Sink didn't rally fellow Democrats and independents to her candidacy.
Veteran election analyst Jay O'Callaghan told Newsmax, "Absentee ballots and early voting indicated Republicans had the same level of turnout they had in 2012 and below the level they had in 2010 and they still won."
Jolly, onetime top aide to the late Republican Rep. C.W. Bill Young — whose death last year resulted in the special election — won by a margin of 48.5 percent to 46.6 percent over Sink, former chief financial officer of Florida and 2010 nominee for governor.
Another 4.8 percent of the vote went to Libertarian Lucas Overby, who many Republicans feared would draw enough votes from Jolly to give Sink the win.
In search of excuses for Sink's defeat, Democrats were quick to point out that the 13th District encompassing the Clearwater-St. Petersburg area had been in Republican hands consistently since 1952.
But the district is clearly changing. In 2010, Sink carried the district in her run for governor, and in 2012 President Barack Obama won the district over Mitt Romney with 51 percent of the vote.
More importantly, after winning a hotly contested primary in January over two opponents, Jolly was inarguably the underdog to Sink.
Having won statewide office and losing a narrow race for governor to Republican Rick Scott four years ago, Sink was by far the better known of the two.
The Democrat also had a following in the Asian-American community for a unique reason: She is the great-granddaughter and great-grandniece of Eng and Chang Bunker, the well-known Siamese twins.
Unopposed for the Democratic nomination, Sink went into the twilight days before Tuesday's voting with a big cash advantage. Her campaign spent more than $2 million on TV advertising compared to only $542,000 spent by Jolly on the airwaves.
But Jolly hit back hard, repeatedly voicing his opposition to Obamacare and linking Sink to President Barack Obama and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi as supporters of the controversial measure and its bungled rollout.
Assisting the GOP hopeful in this effort, but operating independently of the Jolly campaign, was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent an estimated $1.2 million tying Sink to Obama and Pelosi.
Sink counterpunched with the fix-it message that many Democratic candidates plan to deploy this fall.
"Let's take the parts of the Affordable Care Act that may not be working correctly and fix them," Sink said, charging that Jolly's repeal position would bring back the days when healthcare providers could deny insurance for pre-existing conditions.
Sink attacked Jolly for working as a lobbyist in Washington, while Jolly repeatedly pointed out that Sink lived in Hillsborough County, outside the 13th District, until she was "parachuted in" by national Democrats to run in the district.
In debates, the candidates in the special election also clashed with predictable positions on abortion. Sink embraced what she called "a woman's right to choose," while Jolly never retreated from his strong pro-life stand.
But it was Obamacare that clearly played the pivotal role in the campaign and its outcome.
"David Jolly's victory could be an ominous sign for national Democrats," Mark Kennedy, former Minnesota Republican congressman and director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, told Newsmax. "Nonaffiliated voters represent 1 in 5 available targets, and Jolly's campaign ran on a repeal-and-replace Obamacare message that could resonate with swing voters elsewhere."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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