What to make of last night’s Republican victory in the Florida special election? As political commentator Paul Begala tweeted, it’s hard to spin it as other than a stinging defeat for Democrats. And, I would add, as a harbinger of bad tidings for the November midterms.
The district was a winnable one for Democrats, Alex Sink was a strong and well-funded candidate. But message beats candidates and money in wave elections, and Democrats are right to fear that a wave of anti-Obamacare sentiment will carry Republicans to a smashing majority next fall. What, if anything, can Democrats do between now and then to counter the Republican surge? There are suggestions today that Democrats may harden their “mend it, don’t end it” hedge on the new health-care law. The party line leading into Florida was that Democratic candidates were wise to distance themselves from Obama and his health-care law by decrying its rollout, but to stop short of seeking its repeal. While last night’s defeat in Florida is unlikely to change the official line, individual candidates may consider bolting and calling for a repeal of the new law, especially those who might not have been in Congress when the bill became law.
Walking away from the new law is not a winning strategy for Democrats. In fact, Democrats need to launch a full-throated defense of the Affordable Care Act and cast its opponents as having no plan to address the nation’s health-care needs. The problems with the ACA are well-known: where are the success stories? Instead of pouring four million dollars into a relatively meaningless special election, why don’t the party committees make that a down payment on a targeted national ad buy to “sell” Obamacare success stories? Democrats are lashed to the President’s mast on healthcare; to save themselves, they have to save the new law.