David Jolly wins GOP nomination for Florida special election

Republican David Jolly won his party's nomination for Congress in Florida's 13th District Tuesday, advancing to a special election showdown against Democrat Alex Sink in a race that's shaping up as a microcosm of the national political battle over Obamacare.

Jolly bested two other Republicans, state Rep. Kathleen Peters and retired Marine Brig. Gen. Mark Bircher, a political newcomer backed by former congressman Allen West (R-Fla.). The Associated Press called the race for Jolly with more than nine in 10 precincts reporting. He led the way with 45 percent of the vote.

The lead-up to the March election in this purple district is expected to be competitive. Sink, the former state chief financial officer, coasted to her party's nomination unopposed and raised heaps of cash as the Republicans beat each other up in the primary.

The special election promises to be a testing ground for each party's strategy on the health-care law. Sink favors repairing the law rather than repealing it. Jolly favors repeal. He said in a recent interview with The Washington Post that he believes the health-care law will be the central focus of the election. Sink doesn't agree.

When Sink launched her bid last fall, the government shutdown had just done serious damage to the GOP's image. But since then, the problematic rollout of Obamacare has tipped the scales in the other direction.

Jolly has pitched himself as a natural successor to late congressman C.W. Bill Young, his former boss. Young (R), one of the longest-serving members in U.S. House history, died in October, triggering the special election to fill his seat.

Young is viewed in the district as political royalty. But legislative legacy was upstaged in the closing stage of the primary by his personal life. A report in the Tampa Bay Times detailed Young's first marriage and his distant relationship with his children from that marriage, which mostly remained tucked away from the public’s view for decades.

There was more family drama related to Young's other family. His widow, Beverly Young, backed Jolly to fill the seat. Bill Young II, the son of Beverly and Bill, backed Peters. Jolly’s first TV ad featured Beverly Young saying, “David will continue what Bill Young started.”

Jolly was not seen as a top recruit for the race. But after marquee GOP names passed, he seized the advantage, outspending his opponents on TV advertising.

The special election will be held on March 11.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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