Going into Election Day, 125,000 votes had already been cast through early or absentee voting in the Tampa-area district, with Republicans casting 4600 more than Democrats (though WHO the votes were for is obviously not known). This mirrored the registration percentages in the district which has 37% registered Republicans, 35% Democrats and 24% Independents. It was a district that Obama carried narrowly in both 2008 and 2012.
More than any shift in the balance of power in the House, the race represented a first test of messaging and tactics in a swing area for both parties. Both parties invested heavily to test advertising themes and hoped to gain momentum heading into the summer campaign season. Over $5 million was spent on behalf of Jolly while almost $4 million was spent to support Sink.
The top issue in the race was ObamaCare - with both sides attacking the other on the issue. Sink, who supports ObamaCare but wants to make fixes, accused Jolly of wanting to turn back the clock to when those with preexisting conditions could be denied coverage. Conversely, Jolly and the GOP accused Sink of supporting an expensive law that ended up costing coverage to thousands of Floridians. Another issue that played a role, and will likely show up regularly in the midterms, was Social Security. The issue took additional importance here because almost ¼ of the voters in the district are over 65, but the attacks on both sides were familiar from past elections with Jolly interested in exploring some private options for younger workers. Sink, 65, made a strong appeal to these senior voters, highlighting the age difference with the 41 year old Jolly.
Ultimately, the campaign does little to change the dynamics of Congress for the remainder of the year and there will likely be a rematch in the general election in November with wider turnout that it is impossible to predict at this point which candidate benefits. With a virtual tie going into Election Day in both polling and, more importantly, early votes cast, the "on the ground" turnout efforts made the difference. Jolly's victory demonstrates that the GOP may have caught up with the ground game efforts that Democrats pushed so heavily in 2012. It stands as a stark reminder to the business community that the ability to register, educate and turn out voters is still the primary driver of elections. Employer to employee communications is dramatically more impactful and less expensive than ten million dollars on television as was seen in this race. BIPAC looks forward to working with you to actively engage employees on the ground in elections important to your business or industry.