White House: Sink's Loss Not Tied to Obamacare

White House: Sink's Loss Not Tied to Obamacare
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Democratic congressional candidate Alex Sink did not lose a Florida special election Tuesday because she supports President Obama's health reform law, the White House maintained Wednesday.

“Any fair assessment of the role that the debate about the Affordable Care Act played reaches the conclusion that, at best for the Republicans, it was a draw,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “And I think that's evidenced by the fact that the Republican candidate himself didn't even mention it in his victory speech.”

Republican candidate David Jolly defeated Sink by two points in a closely watched race to represent Florida’s 13th District -- a Tampa-area district that straddles Pinellas County along the Gulf Coast and is considered moderate by Sunshine State standards. Obama carried the 13th in his two presidential races, leading Democrats to predict that with sufficient money and organization, Sink, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2010, would soon be traveling to Washington.

Carney denied the White House predicted victory for Sink, who had more name recognition and bigger campaign coffers than did lobbyist Jolly. “We thought it was going to be close,” he said.

The White House has not conceded to pundits that Obama’s signature legislative achievement might be a significant drag on Democratic candidates in November. Heading toward the March 31 deadline for health coverage under the ACA, President Obama and administration officials have been working overtime to sell the law’s benefits to young people and to women, hoping to transform the tally of newly insured into Democrats’ most effective counter-argument.

During fundraising speeches, the president has said the biggest liability for Democrats in a non-presidential year will be turnout troubles, rather than policy. Democratic voters are less likely to vote in a midterm election than in a presidential one, he has said. White House political advisers say Republican candidates will struggle this year to explain to voters what they are for as they trumpet what they’re against.

But some Democratic pollsters concede their party faces headwinds beyond the excitement deficit that Obama points out. The pollsters find the public remains worried about the economy and jobs, voices strong feelings that the country is on the wrong track, and expresses misgivings and confusion about the complex health reform law. Obama’s job approval rating dropped to 41 percent this month, a new low, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey of 1,000 adults.

Sink, who was not from the district she sought to represent, encountered flagging Democratic enthusiasm among voters Tuesday after a barrage of negative ads cast her as a clone of Obama and Nancy Pelosi and a supporter of Medicare Advantage spending cuts. Voters did not turn out for Sink, a former state chief financial officer, in quite the numbers Republicans did for Jolly, who pinned his candidacy to local issues.

Carney suggested a turnout problem -- not the health law -- hobbled Sink in a close race that occurred eight months before Election Day. “In 2006, Democrats lost every competitive special election and went on to pick up 31 seats in November,” he said, reading from prepared notes. “In 2010, when House Democrats would go on to lose 63 seats and [their] control [of] the chamber in the fall, they won every single competitive special election.”

One journalist quipped that the White House sounded like it was saying Sink’s loss was actually a favorable omen.

“No,” Carney replied. “It's a race where Republicans held the seat for 58 years, where they routinely won that seat by 30 or more points. And last night they won by less than two points. So it is what it is.”

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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