There's no doubt that Republicans and Democrats see the outcome of Florida's 13th district special election as a crucial marker ahead of the midterm elections this fall. For proof, look at how much money organizations on both sides have been pouring in.
The biggest spenders thus far have been Republican-aligned groups, according to a tally from the the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending. GOP groups have spent more than $2.8 million to boost Republican nominee David Jolly or attack Democratic nominee Alex Sink, CRP's most up-to-date numbers show. Democratic groups have spent nearly $1.5 million doing the opposite.
That's a lot of money for a House race. It speaks to the very high stakes in this district just west of Tampa. The district is purple terrain that President Obama carried narrowly in 2012, making it a good tactical testing ground ahead of the November midterms.
A Sink win would be proof the Democratic Party can survive an onslaught of Obamacare-related attacks in a moderate area by running a candidate without a congressional résumé who doubles down on local issues. It would also signal that vouching for a repeal of Obamacare (as Jolly is doing) is as politically perilous as Democrats say it is.
A Jolly victory would signal that the GOP is capable of tying even a strong Democratic recruit with no congressional baggage to the unpopular health-care law and the unpopular president. Such an outcome should send chills down the spines of congressional Democrats with actual ties to Obamacare and the president.
Republican groups have zeroed in on Sink's support for Obamacare and taken aim at her tenure as the state's chief financial officer in their ads. Democrats have slammed Jolly's lobbying career in their spots. It has become a race of which side can define the other in a more negative light ahead of the March 11 election.
Although GOP groups are outpacing their Democratic counterparts in spending, they can argue that they are leveling the financial playing field, which absent third-party groups, would be dominated by the Democratic nominee. Sink held a big cash advantage over Jolly ($1 million to $142,000) at the start of the year.
The biggest spenders on the GOP side have been the National Republican Congressional Committee ($1.3 million), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($800,000) and American Action Network ($439,000).
On the Democratic side, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ($886,000) and House Majority PAC (495,000) have spent most of the money.