RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
A special election for a congressional seat on Florida suggests trouble ahead for Democratic candidates who backed Obamacare in swing districts. Republican David Jolly claimed victory last night in a congressional district that includes part of St. Petersburg, beating a strong Democratic candidate, Alex Sink. As NPR's Greg Allen reports, the results aren't encouraging for Democrats looking ahead to the fall midterm elections.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Democrats will point out that this is a district that has been represented by a Republican for 60 straight years. Even so, with the death last year of Congressman Bill Young, who held the seat for 40 of those years, Democrats saw an opening. Republicans hold a slight registration edge in Florida's 13th congressional district, but it was carried by Barack Obama in the last two presidential elections. Alex Sink entered the race with high name recognition. She was Florida's elected chief financial officer and then ran for governor, losing narrowly to Republican Rick Scott. Last night marked another disappointing loss for Sink.
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REPRESENTATIVE ALEX SINK: Although we're disappointed, the bars are open.
ALLEN: Republican David Jolly, on the other hand, entered the race with some disadvantages. Unlike Sink, he wasn't well-known and faced a primary battle. And after serving as an aide to Congressman Young, he went on to a career as a Washington lobbyist, a label Sink and outside groups used against him in nearly every campaign ad. In claiming victory last night, Jolly again acknowledged the legacy of his former boss and political mentor.
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REPRESENTATIVE-ELECT DAVID JOLLY: Know from the bottom of my heart that I am grateful for the honor you have bestowed on me tonight, not to replace Bill Young, but to follow Bill Young and to allow me to serve as your next member of Congress.
ALLEN: For Democrats, the disappointment extends beyond that of losing a coveted House seat. As a swing district, the race was something of a testing ground for the fall's midterm races. The weapon Jolly and outside groups wielded most often in their attacks against Sink was her support for Obamacare. Here's an ad run by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A disaster for families and seniors. With Alex Sink, the priority is Obamacare, not us.
ALLEN: Democrats in the House and Senate can expect to see similar ads this fall. In congratulating Jolly last night, Greg Walton, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Sink was, quote, "brought down because of her unwavering support for Obamacare, and that should be a loud warning for other Democrats running coast to coast." The head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Steve Israel, tried to put a good face on it, saying Democrats will fight for the seat again in a few months, when Jolly has to run again in the midterm. Not clear yet is whether their candidate will be Alex Sink. Greg Allen, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.