Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball says CD 13 race now “leans Democratic”

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David Jolly won comfortably in Tuesday’s special GOP primary for Florida Congressional District 13.

But now that the primary is over, says Sabato’s Crystal Ball Managing Editor Kyle Kondik, the race shapes up against Democrat Alex Sink, Florida’s former chief financial officer and 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

With that in mind, Kondik changed the FL CD-13 special election from “Toss-up” to “Leans Democratic.” The race is for Sink to lose, he writes, unless the general political conditions become so unfavorable for Democrats that it lifts Jolly’s chances. The election is March 11.

Sink is a significantly better-known candidate, from her time as Florida CFO and a narrow loss to then-candidate Rick Scott. She also raised much more money than Jolly to date, with more than $1 million cash on hand according to FEC records. Compare that to only $140,000 for Jolly, much of which was used to secure the primary.

Jolly’s history as a lobbyist also made him the preferred candidate for Democrats.

Kondik cites incentives in the race for the rating change; Democrats are eager to pick up the seat if they have any chance at a House majority in the midterms.

President Obama won Pinellas County in 2012 by 50 percent to 49 percent for Mitt Romney, so any future Democratic House majority would depend on races like this, winning the remaining conservative strongholds in both the South and Appalachia.

Republicans may have a national advantage, with a 17-seat lead in the House, but in FL CD-13, the best GOP candidates declined to participate.

Many Republicans admit (albeit privately) a poor record in special elections. An upset did happen in the last New York City special, to fill Anthony Weiner’s redistricted seat, but Democrats have often bested Republicans in recent special contests.

This means national Republicans will remain vigilant when approaching the FL CD-13 race. Kondik notes that the GOP will step up if Jolly becomes the favorite, but they are not as excited about the seat as Democrats.

There is the chance a simple Democratic victory is an overstatement. Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times called Sink “not the world’s best campaigner.” The national climate, especially on the issue of ObamaCare, could also favor Jolly.

Kondik says he will be watching the race closely. He believes Sink could be the clear favorite, and changed the rating to reflect that.

The last point is an obligatory warning about special elections; they almost never predict future general elections. Political rhetoric will be high, especially if Sink wins the seat, but it only means that Democrats would need 16 seats rather than 17 for a House majority in November.

That alone makes a Democratic House takeover somewhat unlikely.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.