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Special Is, Well, Special

David Jolly beat Alex Sink in Tuesday's special election for a House seat from Florida.
David Jolly beat Alex Sink in Tuesday's special election for a House seat from Florida.
politico.com

Progressive Democrats rightfully are distressed about the results in Tuesday’s special election in Florida for a House seat.

But it’s not an accurate predictor of what might happen in November.

Because Tuesdays’s special election was just that: Special.

The dictionary defines special, used as an adjective, as “better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual.”

When used as a noun, special means “a thing, such as an event, product, or broadcast, that is designed or organized for a particular occasion or purpose.”

Special is not common, it’s not ordinary, and it’s not usual; it’s “different” and “particular.”

Of course, Democratic and Republican leaders are not interested in linguistics; both parties already are spinning the results in favorable ways. New York Representative Steve Israel, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says, “Special elections are never predictive, but they are always instructive.” His Republican counterpart at the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, Oregon Representative Greg Walden, says the election proves “voters are tired of the devastating policies of this administration,” particularly the Affordable Care Act.

Walden said that Tuesday evening. Tuesday morning, when it seemed the Republican candidate, David Jolly, might lose, the Oregonian was channeling Steve Israel, claiming that “special elections aren’t too predictive for either side going forward.”

Democrats may well flounder in the midterm elections, and Republicans may well increase their House majority and might even win control of the Senate, but not because of anything that happened Tuesday in Florida. True, Jolly narrowly beat Alex Sink, the Democratic nominee, in a district the president carried twice. But those victories meant little Tuesday: The district is overwhelmingly white and largely aged, two demographic indicators for not only voting Republican but also for not being enthusiastic about Obamacare. In addition, Republicans tend to be more motivated than Democrats, so their turnout is higher in special elections, especially when prodded by an influx of outside, special-interest money geared to overturning the ACA.

As for November, the president’s ratings are low, making him a drag on the party’s ticket, and the rocky rollout of Obamacare makes the new healthcare program a plump target for Republicans. After all, the president’s party usually loses seats in a midterm election, particularly in his second term.

Still, the midterm election will not be a single-issue referendum on the ACA, which is working and which will become more popular over time.

The Democrats face serious structural problems in November. Because of Republican gerrymandering, the Democrats were not able to parlay the 1.7 million more votes they won cumulatively in House elections in 2012 into a majority. Instead, Democrats lost control of the lower chamber by 17 seats, and estimates are that the party would need to win the popular vote by seven points to retake the House. That’s not going to happen.

In the Senate, the GOP might well have 50 seats by now if it were not for several ill-fated tea party candidates winning primaries in 2010 and 2012 over electable Republicans in Colorado, Delaware, Missouri, Indiana, and Nevada.

As gloomy as the midterm elections look for Democrats, the long-term demographic trends favor the party. The growing importance of the Latino vote, plus the skewing of young voters to the Democratic party, means Republicans will have difficulty winning the White House in the future, especially if they continue to block immigration reform.

Of course, when gerrymandering meets demographic trends the result is divided and gridlocked government.