Everything you need to know about today’s special election in Florida

March 11

Today is election day in Florida's District 13 -- which takes up much of Pinellas County in the Tampa area. A special election is being held to find a replacement for Republican Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who died last October. Here's everything you need to know about the race.

Who's running?

David Jolly


Republican David Jolly thanks supporters during a campaign rally Nov. 23, 2013, in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla.                     (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

Republican Jolly is a 41 year old "lawyer-lobbyist-businessman" running as a continuation of Young, who served in the House for 20 terms. Earlier in his career, Jolly worked at Young's congressional office, but his stances on many issues do not graft neatly onto Young's record. He'd like to overturn Roe v. Wade, and think states should be allowed to legalize same-sex marriage. He would have raised the debt ceiling, and wouldn't have voted for the House Republican budget. He's against Common Core and a path to citizenship.  The Tampa Bay Times provided a snapshot of the candidate's campaign trail style last week:

Jolly is a well-informed and often thoughtful candidate. He does not smile easily but is polished and amiable. He looks like a congressman, right down to the graying temples, but also like the quintessential Washington insider his critics depict him as. He dons well-pressed suits, shirts with cuff links, and flawless half-Windsor knots. (Even, oddly enough, at a Phillies spring training game last week.)

This may be his best shot at winning the seat in Congress he has been eyeing at least since his former boss flirted with retiring in 2009: more prominent Republicans took a pass, and a special election generally means much lower Democratic turnout.

Jolly is not one for charming the press, so the national attention on this race has likely been brutal for him. However, he has been a far more vocal person on the trail than Alex Sink, his main opponent for the open seat.

Alex Sink


Democrat Alex Sink speaks during a candidate forum on February 25, 2014. (REUTERS/Brian Blanco)

The Democratic candidate for the FL-13 race, Sink ran against Rick Scott during the 2010 gubernatorial race. Her husband was the late Bill McBride, who ran for governor in Florida in 2002. They were the only married couple to both run for governor and lose, though Sink only lost by by 1 percent.. Many in Florida assumed she'd try for governor again this year, until the congressional seat suddenly opened up.  She served as Florida's chief financial officer from 2007 to 2011. Pre-politics, she was the president of NationsBank in Florida (now better known as Bank of America). Sink has laid low since late February, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Her last news conference was on February 26, and she's been doing quiet campaigning without giving the press advance notice. Sink, who is 65, has focused on attracting senior voters, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Lucas Overby

The special election's Libertarian candidate won't be winning this in an upset, but he could upset the outcome of the race by stealing voters from Jolly or Sink. Overby's campaign, which began before the special election, has focused on attracting the type of voters who don't usually vote in a midterm, and especially not in a special election. Overby, a 27-year-old commercial diver, is far younger than the other candidates. Only one percent of the voters in District 13 are registered Libertarian.

What's the electorate like?

Dave Weigel of Slate summed up the District 13 voters like this:

Florida’s 13th is bluer than the rest of Florida, and much bluer than the states—Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina—that will decide control of the Senate. But it’s grayer than any of those states, too. Nearly 1-in-4 FL-13 residents is over 65. The electorate, which started returning absentee ballots weeks ago, is even older. In 2010, the senior vote broke for the GOP by 21 points. In 2012, it fell back to a 12-point gap. Right there—that was the difference between a narrow Republican loss and a historic Republican victory. If Obamacare could break Sink, it could break anyone. If she can defend the law, Democrats in tougher races will start to believe they can, too.

According to the Associated Press, the district "is 37 percent Republican, 35 percent Democrat and 24 percent independent. More than one in four registered voters is older than 65, a population that could make up more than half of those who cast ballots."

The Fix added yesterday, "Public polling has shown an electorate that would tilt between 8 and 13 percentage points toward the GOP. And Republicans have returned more absentee ballots than Democrats. Voting by absentee is the dominant way of casting ballots in the district."

What's the polling say?

In the last Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/WUSF Public Media poll released on February 12, Sink had 42 percent of the vote, Jolly had 35 and Overby had 4 percent. One poll had Overby getting as much as 12 percent of the vote, but he has trended mostly around 5 to 6 percent. Roll Call still rates the race as a tossup.

Who cast ballots during early voting?

 Nearly 125,000 people -- 26 percent of eligible voters -- have already cast ballots in the race. Republicans currently have returned 4,600 more early ballots than Democrats had, although some of those voters may have picked Sink or Overby instead. The Tampa Bay Times thinks that if turnout is over 200,000, Sink is likely to win. If people turn out in special election fashion (i.e. don't), they give Jolly the lead.

How expensive was this race?

Outside groups spent $4.2 million opposing Sink, and $3.5 million opposing Jolly. Outside groups backing the candidates were rarer -- $225,000 went toward supporting Sink, and $804,000 toward supporting Jolly. The campaigns themselves haven't spent quite as much -- $1.6 million for Sink, and $859,000 for Jolly. Sink has $789,000 more on hand than Jolly. The National Republican Congressional Committee and National Democratic Congressional Committee have been the biggest spenders overall, each flooding the race with over $2 million -- perhaps not surprising given that many in the media are coiled and ready to see the race as an augur for the rest of the election season.

Democrats spent about $5.4 million on ad buys alone, while Republicans spent $4.5 million.

What were the big issues?

Like most competitive races, there's been a lot of disagreement on various fronts. Here are the biggest ones:

Obamacare

The battle lines over Obamacare could hardly be sharper in this race. Sink supports Obamacare but wants to fix it. Jolly wants to repeal and replace the law. Much of the outside spending has been dedicated to this issue and the candidates have tussled over the law in debates. Here's an example of an anti-Sink Obamacare ad:

And an anti-Jolly commercial:

Obamacare is a big reason why national Democrats and Republicans have taken such a keen interest in the race. If Sink wins, Democrats will be able to show that 1) They can survive attacks related the health-care law, even as it's been plagued by rollout problems and 2) Calling for a repeal of the law is an overcorrection that voters don't want. Republicans will trumpet a Jolly victory as proof that voters really don't like Obamacare and that supporting the law is toxic even for outside-Washington candidates like Sink.

Social Security 

Since the 13th district is home to a large elderly population, Social Security is a focal point. Democrats have accused Jolly of of lobbying to privatize Social Security, and Jolly has said Social Security's future must be addressed. When asked at a debate whether privatization could be part of that, Jolly said, "I think for the youngest generation, it is appropriate that we consider all options … but importantly, we have to maintain the safety net."

The candidates' past jobs 

Jolly's work as a lobbyist has come under consistent assault from Democrats. Republicans, meanwhile, have raised questions about Sink's tenure as state CFO, including her use of a state-owned plane they say she flew on to the Bahamas for a vacation. Sink used the plane to travel from from Miami to Fort Lauderdale. She then took a commercial flight to the Bahamas.

How has the race changed over the course of the campaign?

It's been a roller-coaster. Let's look at what's happened, phase by phase:

Recruitment (Advantage Democrats)

Young's death last fall came in the wake of the government shutdown, which damaged the Republican brand. It's no surprise that the GOP failed to land a top candidate in that climate. The blue chip candidate Republican party leaders wanted was former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker. But he declined, leaving Republicans with Jolly and a couple of other lesser-known choices. Democrats got Sink -- exactly who they wanted.

Problems with Obamacare (Advantage Republicans)

Things got easier for Republicans when the mounting problems with Obamacare started to badly damage the Democratic brand late in 2013. Suddenly, it was looking like they could compete, given Sink's past support for Obamacare. During the primary, Jolly signaled that he would zero in on the health-care law in an interview with The Washington Post. “When I got into this race, I wanted to talk about a whole lot of things,” he said. “But without a doubt, day one, the issue was Obamacare. The voters have made that the issue.”

The primary (Advantage Democrats)

Jolly faced a contested primary that drained his resources by the start of the general election in mid-January. Sink, meanwhile, was free to stockpile funds and run positive ads right after the primary -- a clear advantage for Democrats.

The stretch run (Tossup)

Sink has continued to raise big money but GOP outside groups have swooped in to even things out. Republicans have outpaced Democrats in early voting, but the question is whether it is enough to overcome Sink's cross-party appeal. Neither candidate has been impressive. As we wrote Monday, if Jolly wins, it's not going to be because his strengths as a candidate propelled him across the finish line. Ditto for Sink.

When do the polls open and close today?

Polls open at 7 a.m. EST and close at 7 p.m. EST.

Where can I vote?

Here's a handy guide.

 

Must-reads:

"Gray knew of ‘shadow campaign,’ Thompson prosecutors say; mayor says it’s all a lie" — Ann E. Marimow, Matt Zapotosky and Paul Schwartzman, The Washington Post

"Federal Prosecutors Seek Records on Port Authority Chairman" — Ted Mann, The Wall Street Journal

 

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