The lesson from the District 13 special election for the U.S. House of Representatives was pretty simple, really. Charlie Crist and Rick Scott know that better than anyone.
Despite the millions spent by Democrats to back their high-profile candidate, Alex Sink, Republicans made the Affordable Care Act the defining issue of the election.
Or, as self-described “GOP Media Guy” Rick Wilson put it on Twitter, “You can run, but you'll just die tired: Obamacare will work against its red state senate Dem cheerleaders like a hot knife through butter.”
Well, knife met butter in this race.
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Democrats can spin it any way they want, but their candidate — who lost narrowly in 2010 to Scott for governor — was beaten by political rookie David Jolly, a relative unknown until a few months ago, while the nation watched.
Democrats can say District 13 is a Republican stronghold, held for more than four decades by the late Bill Young. They can say the 1.8 percent that separated Sink and Jolly hardly gives the GOP a mandate. They can point to a tepid midterm voter turnout of 40 percent.
They can, and did, argue that Sink actually ran a fine campaign. She attracted independents and cross-over voters.
“Alex Sink is still our hero. She and her staff took on this huge effort bravely, and with distinction,” Hillsborough Democratic chairman Michael K. van Hoek said Wednesday in a statement.
Implied in all that is that it could be different in the fall, when turnout will be higher in a district Obama won in 2012. Perhaps.
But they can't get around the fact that Republicans succeeded in arguing Obamacare needs to be destroyed, not fixed. Sink promised to “fix what is wrong” with the plan.
Jolly, following the script, had a one-word mantra: “Repeal!”
Sink painted Jolly as an out-of-touch lobbyist.
Sink said Jolly could help destroy Social Security.
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This strategy is a winning issue for Republicans right now, and it will hang around Crist's neck like an anvil this fall as he tries to unseat Gov. Rick Scott. This toxic problem for Democrats also could lead to a GOP takeover of the U.S. Senate. If that happens, how many times between now and the end of his term in January 2017 do you think Obama will veto bills passed by Congress to defund his health care plan?
I'm starting the over-under line at a dozen.
That's getting a little ahead of things, but maybe not too much.
The GOP senses blood in the water (covered, by the way, under the ACA as a pre-existing condition).
This goes beyond the fatigue voters usually have by this point with a two-term president. To many voters, the calamitous rollout of the health plan last fall sealed their opinion that it's an unworkable disaster.
The GOP strategy echoes the “it's the economy, stupid” game plan Bill Clinton used to win the White House. So, get ready for about 10,000 TV ads showing that famous shot of Charlie Crist when he was the Republican governor, hugging Obama.
Cue the announcer: “It's Obamacare. And it's stupid.”
It's like the man said, knife meet butter.