Health Care Law Gets 1st Test in Florida Election
President Barack Obama's health care overhaul is getting its first test ahead of the 2014 midterm elections Tuesday in a Tampa-area House district where Democrats and Republicans have spent millions of dollars trying out national strategies for the rest of the year.
The candidates are Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly, and their contest to succeed the late GOP Rep. Bill Young is considered a tossup, although Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby could affect the outcome by siphoning votes away from both candidates. The perception of what the race means has inspired both parties to call in star advocates like President Bill Clinton and former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, in addition to blanketing the district with ads, calls and mailings. More than $11 million has been spent on the race, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit group that tracks government information. More than one in four registered voters in the district is older than 65, a population that could account for more than half of those casting ballots.
As Jolly and Sink shook hands around the district Tuesday morning, a steady stream of people in one retirement community in Pinellas Park cast ballots. Many of the retirees expressed disgust at the amount of money spent on the race.
"Well, I think way too much money has been spent on it that could have been spent to help people that are in dire need," said Gracie Meyer. "I would hope that someday they put a limit on how much any candidate can spend to get elected or re-elected. I heard last night that 12 million dollars has been spent on this election. And this is all to do over in November. I just think it's a travesty of justice that we allow this much money to be spent on an election."
Campaigns across the country are preparing for November’s midterm elections.
Voter Fred Olson wouldn’t say who he voted for, but asserted that he was "disturbed" by the amount of money spent and the misleading ads.
"It’s very difficult to vote for candidates who condone that type of campaigning, even though you might like them as individuals, the campaigning is outrageous," he said, adding that he considered voting for Overby as a protest vote against the two major parties. "It puts me to the test to vote for either of the major candidates."
The battle for Florida’s 13th District seat is a prequel of sorts to the national fight this year over who controls Congress in the last two years of Obama’s final presidential term. The House is expected to remain under Republican control. But in the Senate, Republicans are hoping to leverage Obama’s unpopularity and his health care law’s wobbly start to gain the six seats required to control the 100-member chamber.
That makes the race in Florida a pricey proving ground for both parties, with the candidates the faces of the effort.
Jolly, backed by Republicans and outside groups, says Sink would undermine Medicare because of Democratic-passed cuts to programs under "Obamacare."
Sink and her allies, meanwhile, paint Jolly an extremist who wants to privatize Social Security and gut Medicare.
Clinton recorded a phone call last week seeking local volunteers to help with Sink’s campaign, and a half dozen House Democrats emailed fundraising appeals to their own supporters on her behalf. More than a third of Jolly’s campaign contributions came from members of Congress.
Meanwhile, Ryan joined Jolly on a conference call with voters, while Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul recorded a phone message for the GOP nominee aimed at supporters of Overby.
Political experts, however, don’t think Overby has a chance, but acknowledge that he will siphon votes away from the two main candidates - possibly more from Jolly by drawing Republicans who desire smaller government or who don’t like voting for a lobbyist.
Anthony Brunello, a political science professor at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, noted that Overby could also take votes away from Sink because of his socially liberal stance on issues such as staying out of foreign conflicts and legalizing gay marriage and marijuana. He said Overby could simultaneously draw votes from the far left and the far right.
While Republicans held the congressional seat for four decades until Young’s death last year, the district’s voters favored Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. The district is 37 percent Republican, 35 percent Democrat and 24 percent independent.
Sink has outspent Jolly by more than 3 to 1 on television advertising, though outside groups aligned with the GOP have helped narrow the overall Democratic advantage.