GOP, Beware Of Tuesday’s Victory

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by Karl Rove,

from The Wall Street Journal,

David Jolly’s Florida win shows that opposition to ObamaCare alone won’t be enough in November.

To Republicans, a word of caution over the special election in Florida’s 13th congressional district: Don’t uncork the champagne.

David Jolly’s victory on Tuesday over Democrat Alex Sink by 48.4%-46.6% is significant. President Obama won the district twice, and its changing political demographics make it Democratic-leaning—despite being held for 42 years by C.W. “Bill” Young, a popular Republican, until his death last fall. Still, special elections don’t always dictate how midterms turn out.

Tuesday’s special election does provide lessons for both parties. For Republicans, it shows ObamaCare is a potent issue that hurts Democrats badly but isn’t sufficient by itself. For example, a Feb. 18 poll conducted by independent political groups (including American Crossroads, which I helped organize) in Florida’s 13th district found 41% supported ObamaCare while 52% opposed it. Opposition was centered among Republicans: Attacking ObamaCare motivated them more than supporting it energized Democrats. Independents opposed ObamaCare but by a narrower margin.

Democrats mitigated some of ObamaCare’s negative effects. Their candidate was not in Congress when ObamaCare passed and so didn’t vote for it. Ms. Sink pummeled Mr. Jolly as wanting to “totally repeal ObamaCare instead of working in a bipartisan way to fix it,” to cite the language tested by her pollster. She also tried changing the subject by accusing him of wanting to privatize Social Security and gut Medicare.

Mr. Jolly wisely refused to defend the status quo before ObamaCare and emphasized replacing, not just repealing, the deeply flawed program. He met the Social Security and Medicare lies aimed at him head-on, diminishing their impact.

Republicans will see these tactics again this fall.

Mr. Jolly put ObamaCare in a larger frame, urging voters to elect someone to be a check and balance for Mr. Obama, rather than blindly support him.

The Republican campaign also understood that Ms. Sink’s record mattered. GOP ads pointed out that as president of NationsBank (now Bank of America ) in Florida, she collected $8 million in salary and bonuses while thousands of bank jobs were cut.

Republicans also substantially erased the Democratic edge in get-out-the-vote.

One final lesson: While Ms. Sink’s campaign outraised Mr. Jolly’s 2-to-1 and outspent it 4-to-1 on TV, outside conservative groups evened things up. Democrats ended up spending $6.4 million and Republicans $6.3 million.

Republicans are buoyed by Tuesday’s election. But only if they apply its lessons in dozens of other contests for the House and Senate can they turn a good midterm into a great one.

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