The real winners and losers out of the CD 13 special election

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Republican David Jolly has won the special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, defeating Democratic candidate Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby.

With all precincts reporting, Jolly captured approximately 48% of the vote to 46% for Sink and 5% for Overby.

Here is my list of the real winners and losers (in alphabetical order) coming out of Tuesday’s election.

Winners

Rick Baker — Inexplicably, Adam Smith has Baker in his “Losers” column just because Baker did not want to run for Congress. But in my book Baker is a definite winner, serving as the “Jeb Bush of Pinellas,” as one Jolly adviser referred to him. Baker got in on the ground floor with Jolly, endorsing him and appearing in a TV commercial for him.  No doubt that relationship will come in quite handy for Baker as he continues to, even out of office, run St. Petersburg.

Sarah Bascom, Celina Parker, and the rest of team from Bascom Communications & Consulting — Maneuvering a congressional candidate through the treacherous waters of the Tampa Bay media market is no day cruise. Not only did Bascom and Co. have to deal with an adversarial local newspaper, they had to interact with several local TV stations and a host of national reporters who acted more like tourists than journalists. Bascom’s job wasn’t made any easier by the anonymous national Republicans who were biting her ankles. But the reward for Bascom could not be sweeter: her cousin is now a U.S. Congressman. How do you like them apples!

Charlie Crist – The first instinct is to put Crist in the “Losers” column because his fellow Democrat lost an election, but that’s hardly the case. First of all, did you notice which Pinellas Democrat didn’t use up any of his capital campaigning for Sink? That’s right, Crist, who previously helped winners Rick Kriseman, Ken Welch, and Darden Rice. With Sink losing, Crist no longer has to deal with her as a rival for some activists’ affection. He doesn’t have to share donors with Sink. He doesn’t have to worry about some top-notch talent working for Sink instead of him. Crist would never think, much less say this sort of thing, but Sink’s losing is addition by subtraction. Crist is now Florida Democrats’ only hope. 

Michael Guju and Lenny Curry — Both Guju, the chair of the Pinellas GOP and Curry, chair of the Republican Party of Florida, needed a win after Rick Kriseman soundly defeated their candidate in last year’s St. Petersburg mayoral race. Both the local and state party expended considerable resources, be it volunteer time or money on direct mail, to help Jolly end the two-race streak of Democrat wins that could have really gained momentum had Sink won.

Nick Hansen – The whirring sound you may have heard during the special election was the sound of Hansen crunching numbers and running spreadsheets. Just like one of his mentors, Jim Rimes, likes to do when he’s not running the state Senate Majority Office. Hansen is now one of the chief political aides to, among others, the U.S. Representative from St. Petersburg and the state Senator from St. Petersburg.

Local TV stations — Talk about Christmas coming early! Most of the eight figures spent in this race found their way to local television stations.  Voters may not like all of those black-and-white, grainy negative commercials, but Bright House Networks and the broadcast stations just love them, especially at this time of year.

The Money Men (Jim Holton, Paul Jallo, Jim McDougald, and Mel Sembler) — The first indication of Jolly’s strength of a candidate was the early, early endorsement of the ‘smart money’ crowd, despite at the time several more prominent names still considering running in CD 13. Now their, um, investment in Jolly’s campaign looks like it paid-off.  

St. Pete Polls – No public survey firm was more in tune with CD 13 voters’ attitudes about Jolly and Sink than the hometown pollster. After taking a lot of criticism for some of its 2012 polling of Florida congressional races, Matt Florell’s team all but nailed this race with a poll in mid-February that showed Jolly winning by two and a later poll showing that Sink was leading early voters, but that the overall race was tied. 

Katie Prill – The spokesperson for the NRCC brought the right attitude to this race, constantly firing off zesty emails that kept bloggers and reporters on their toes. We’ll see a lot less of Katie going forward, but it was nice while we knew her.

Marc Reichelderfer – “The Marchitect” (h/t to David Johnson) took a candidate who started out trailing his opponent by fifteen points and counseled him to a two-point win. Yet some anonymous muffin complained to POLITICO that he was why Jolly would lose. How silly.

Preston Rudie – From the passing of Congressman Young to his interview of Jolly regarding his role in the death many years ago of a pedestrian, the 10 News reporter consistently beat the local newspapers’ coverage of the race. 

Alan Suskey — Next time you see Suskey, ask him, “What’s it like having one of your best friends and mentors be elected to Congress?” Few individuals stand to benefit more personally and professionally than the Capitol Insight lobbyist. 

The Guy Who Predicted Jolly Would Win By 1.5 Points — Whoever that guy was, he is a genius ! Who was that guy? You can find out by clicking on this link

The Victory Group – Two words: Bob Barker

Bill Young II – It was hit or miss there for a while whether the passing of Congressman Young and Jolly’s ascension would hinder Young II’s plans to run for the Florida House, but today, he looks primed for a strong challenge to state Rep. Dwight Dudley. 

Losers

Tampa Bay Times Other than Sink herself, no single person or institution, perhaps not even the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, saw its reputation damaged more during this special election than the hometown newspaper. If I had a nickel for every person — Democrats, Independents, and Republicans — who has wondered, ‘What’s up with the Times?’, I’d be worth more than Bitcoin. From that ridiculous epilogue about the late Congressman Bill Young’s first family to its unending assaults on Jolly (imagine: Jolly lives in a beach community comprised mostly of those who rent!), the Times attempted to influence the outcome of this election more so than any local race I’ve been involved with/observed in two decades of political consulting. But today, after betting so heavily on regionalist Sink, the congressman who represents much of the Times’ audience is diametrically opposed to its worldview.

Nick Janovsky — With this high-profile loss, the shine is off — one of the rising stars in state Democratic politics. Janovsky did nothing wrong, per se, but if the candidate’s plan for winning comes down to Election Day turnout by Democrats and lean-Democrat independents and you are the political director for the campaign, you have to shoulder some of the blame.

Jack Latvala – Not only did Latvala hop aboard the Jolly bandwagon late, but Jolly’s win signals the solidifying of south Pinellas axis of power — Jolly, Jeff Brandes, Rick Baker — not necessarily opposed to Latvala, but clearly not aligned with his ambitions. Yes, these Republicans will support Latvala and his son, Chris, but it’s never been more clear that Latvala is not/no longer the boss of Pinellas. 

LCV Victory Fund – The League of Conservation Voters inexplicably dropped several hundred thousand dollars on ads against Jolly on the issue of climate change — an issue not at all on CD 13 voters’ minds no matter what LCV’s polls say. 

Judithanne McLauchlan – The state Senate candidate challenging Republican Jeff Brandes would have loved to have both Crist and Sink churning out Democratic votes this November in Senate District 22, but now that’s no longer the case. 

National media – The reporters and talking heads who descended on this race treated Congressional District 13 like just another outpost of #OhFlorida, while also trying to build the narrative that the special election was a “bellwether” for the 2014 midterms. Few national journos came to fully understand the nuances of the community, repeatedly referring to the area as “outside Tampa.” That’s like saying Brooklyn is “outside Manhattan” — technically true but completely wrong otherwise. Alex Isenstadt’s piece about the NRCC complaining about Jolly’s campaign was more than “The pros from Dover know better than the local yokels,” it was a premature obituary of a candidate who was still very much alive. The national media’s inability to really gauge this race was encapsulated by Mark Halperin, who, on Election Day, said twice that CD 13 was just northwest of Ft. Lauderdale. 

Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times From the outset of this race, when Smith was scooped by this blog about Sink entering the race, right up until the eve of the election, when he agreed with the assessment that there would be at least 200,000 votes cast, Smith’s reporting has been off, off, off. But what was worse was the way Smith conducted himself throughout the race. When he was bitter and cynical, he was chasing the trivial, i.e, the post he wrote about Jolly’s shoes. The controversial headline he wrote about Jolly’s role in the death of a pedestrian — “David Jolly killed a man” was beyond irresponsible. Smith has lost significant credibility with some of his most loyal readers.

Andy Stone, House Majority PAC – Like Ashley Walker, Stone is a top-notch operative who just happened to take on the chin this time. He did everything in his power to help Sink, but she was just not an impressive enough candidate to inspire low-intensity voters to turnout in a special election. Let’s hope he has better luck with Gwen Graham’s race in CD 2.

Ashley Walker – For some reason Adam Smith has Walker in his “Winners” column, which I understand because a)Walker is a talented operative and b) she is one of Smith’s top sources. But if Sink is the Denver Broncos of Florida politics, than Walker is Peyton Manning. Her candidate had every advantage in the world, but she couldn’t get her across the goalline. Is Walker one of the two or three top Democratic operative in Florida? Probably. But, in politics, its often a case of ‘What have you done for me lately?’ This loss coupled with the debacle that was the Miami Dolphins drive for a new stadium warrants Walker’s place in the “L” column.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.