Voters in a Florida House district will finally get their chance to be heard Tuesday after being subjected for weeks to a barrage of outside attack ads.
Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly are vying to win a special election in Florida’s 13th congressional district, with polls showing a virtual dead heat. At last count, outside groups on both sides had spent $9 million in mostly negative ads, with nearly 200 political commercials airing on TV each day. That’s more than the previous incumbent, Bill Young, spent on campaigns in the entire 33 years before his death, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
The race will offer a key signal ahead of this fall’s midterms about the effectiveness of GOP attacks over Obamacare. And it offers a case study of how national organizations that often have little knowledge of, or interest in, local concerns are increasingly dominating American political campaigns.
The intense national interest is not surprising. Florida’s 13th, which includes Clearwater and much of St. Petersburg, is one of the few remaining truly-competitive districts in the country, thanks to partisan gerrymandering. And because it’s a special election, the race is currently the only game in town.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent more than $1 million attacking Sink, a former banker who narrowly lost a 2010 run for governor to Republican Rick Scott.
“Three hundred thousand Floridians will lose their health insurance because of Obamacare — and Alex Sink supported it. And she still does,” a Chamber ad declares. Sink has said she wants to fix the parts of the Affordable Care Act that aren’t working.
Other groups, including the American Action Network, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the National Rifle Association, also have gone after the Democrat.
The other side is fighting hard too. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent $1.9 million targeting Jolly, a former Young aide and Washington lobbyist. A key line of attack has been Jolly’s lobbying work for a conservative organization that wants to privatize Social Security.
The flood of outside money has complicated the dynamic of the campaign. After the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) spent nearly $500,000 on a misleading ad slamming Sink for using a state plane as part of a vacation trip, Jolly distanced himself from the attack. That led to a spat between the campaign and the NRCC.
Pinellas County, the heart of the district, has high early voting rates, and the party identification numbers for those who have already voted favor Sink. But Republicans tend to turn out at higher rates in special elections.
Whoever wins will have to do it all again—they’ll need to stand for re-election in November.