ST. PETERSBURG — Republican David Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby to capture the fiercely contested special election Tuesday for the U.S. District 13 Congressional race in Pinellas County.
Jolly had 48.4 percent of the vote to win the seat and replace his former boss, C.W. Bill Young, who held it for 43 years until his death in October created the need for the special election.
Sink, the Florida state Chief Financial Officer, got 46.6 percent of the vote, and Overby got 4.8 percent.
A race that normally would play a minor role on the national stage, if any, became a media focal point as political observers tried to divine what lies ahead in campaigns for the upcoming midterm election in November. District 13 includes most Pinellas County from Dunedin south, except for portions of downtown and south St. Petersburg.
Sink, 65, Jolly, 41, and Overby, 27, often were overshadowed by outside political groups and the millions in ads they bought in what was the most expensive Congressional race in history.
Republicans largely targeted Sink on the Affordable Care Act, given that she supports changing the law instead of a full repeal - which Jolly and many Republicans say they prefer. Democrats, meanwhile, hit Jolly for his job as a lobbyist and for his support from ultra conservative groups, and accused him of wanting to privatize Social Security.
Jolly, a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, D.C., was the former counsel and aide to Young.
The two major party candidates were tightly scripted and seldom spoke candidly or off-message, but their campaigns ultimately had little control over how they were portrayed in the media.
Attack ads from a spate of political action committees and superPACs took aspects of Sink’s and Jolly’s records, as well as out-of-context quotes, and blew them up into inflammatory, barely-if-at-all true attack ads.
Money spent by outside groups far overshadowed what the campaigns themselves spent by nearly 2-1. Sink and Jolly pulled in about $2.5 million and $1 million, respectively, while outside money ballooned to nearly $9 million.
Among voters at polling places Tuesday, the race’s negative tone was an unwelcome standout regardless of their political leanings,
“I didn’t like it,” said Glenn Chase, a Clearwater Republican who voted for Jolly because he is against opposes Obamacare. “I thought it was very unprofessional. I hate attack ads in general, but it’s the way the game is played, seems.”
James Ostrand, a Democrat from St. Petersburg, supported Sink because her beliefs are more in line with his, and he didn’t like that Jolly was a registered lobbyist. The ads from either side were a turnoff, he said.
“They were rampant,” he said. “I don’t watch a lot of broadcast television, but I do a lot of streaming and, even with streaming, we were getting hammered with targeted ads for the campaign ...It seems like most of the ads coming from the candidates themselves were more about them and positive, whereas the negative campaign ads seemed to have been coming from political action committees.”
Some voters, particularly Democrats and Independents, received dozens of telephone calls and mailings urging them to vote for Sink.
Largo Independent Frank Akers said the barrage drove him to vote for Overby.
“Well, I got so damn much mail from Alex Sink,” he said. “They called me six or seven times a night. Screw ‘em. I’m going to see if there isn’t something we can’t do about them.”
(The winner) will likely now have to start campaigning for the regularly scheduled midterm election fromm square one, though the is no telling whom (he or she) will face.