Dems, GOP Test Strategy in Fla. Race 03/10 07:23
Voters in this stretch of beach towns and retirement communities provide the
first 2014 campaign test of whether Democrats can counter GOP attacks on the
president's health care overhaul by accusing Republicans of threatening popular
benefit programs for the elderly.
CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) -- Voters in this stretch of beach towns and
retirement communities provide the first 2014 campaign test of whether
Democrats can counter GOP attacks on the president's health care overhaul by
accusing Republicans of threatening popular benefit programs for the elderly.
Democrat Alex Sink and her allies in the spirited race to replace the late
Rep. Bill Young in the U.S. House have spent millions of dollars on TV ads
ahead of Tuesday's special election painting Republican David Jolly as an
extremist who wants to privatize Social Security and gut Medicare.
Jolly has responded with a TV spot featuring his elderly mother and aunt, in
which he says "protecting their Social Security means everything to me."
Jolly argues that it is Sink who would undermine Medicare because of
Democratic-passed cuts to the program under President Barack Obama's health
The suburban St. Petersburg district is considered a proving ground for each
party's political messages and a possible bellwether for the midterm elections.
Officials in both parties have said in recent days that private polls show the
race to be close. Each has made late appeals for campaign cash.
Former President Bill Clinton recorded a phone call last week seeking local
volunteers to help with Sink's campaign and a half dozen House Democrats
emailed fundraising appeals to their own supporters on behalf of her. More than
a third of Jolly's campaign contributions came from members of Congress.
Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan joined Jolly on a conference call with
voters, while Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul recorded a phone message for the GOP
nominee aimed at supporters of Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby.
While Republicans held the congressional seat for four decades until Young's
death last year, the district's voters favored Obama in the past two
presidential elections. In all, the candidates, their party committees and
several outside groups have collectively spent almost $10 million blanketing
the airwaves with largely negative ads focused on health care costs and Social
Part of the reason is the large percentage of seniors in this district,
which is 37 percent Republican, 35 percent Democrat and 24 percent independent.
More than one in four registered voters is older than 65, a population that
could make up more than half of those who cast ballots.
But in an effort to deflect Republican attacks on the health care law and
rollout problems, Democrats also plan to prominently feature proposed
Republican curbs on Social Security and Medicare in competitive races across
"Those issues are paramount," said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, who chairs
the House Democrats' campaign operation. "Having Republicans say that they want
to cut Medicare but continue to fund massive subsidies to big oil companies ...
that will be a defining theme."
Republicans answer by highlighting how some Medicare payment rates were cut
by Democrats to help pay for the health overhaul. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
has spent $1.2 million on ads arguing Sink is "still pushing Obamacare," the
2010 law that it calls "a disaster for families and seniors." Another spot says
Sink supports Obamacare "even though it means higher costs and lost benefits,"
citing reductions to Medicare Advantage, which lets seniors enroll in Medicare
through private insurance plans.
Jolly has put up ads promising spending cuts, balanced budgets and replacing
the health care law.
Sink has outspent Jolly by more than 3 to 1 on television advertising,
though outside groups aligned with the GOP have helped narrow the overall
Having focused much of his campaign on the botched launch of the health care
law, Jolly has lately found himself on the defensive about entitlement
programs. On a recent morning at a senior center here, the former lobbyist
devoted the bulk of his remarks to rebutting Democratic ads that say he worked
for a group that wants to privatize Social Security. The spot also charges that
he "praised a plan ending Medicare's guarantee."
The Republicans' national campaign committee for House candidates has poured
$2 million into TV ads, including one picturing Jolly's opponent next to Obama
and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. "She's fighting for them, not for
us," the ad says of Sink.
Sink, formerly the state's chief financial officer, tries to blunt the
criticism in her own ads. One spot says repealing the health care law would
"force seniors to pay thousands more for prescription drugs"
"We can't go back to letting insurance companies do whatever they want,"
Sink says in the ad.
Associated Press reporters Philip Elliott and David Espo in Washington and
Tony Winton and Tamara Lush in Florida contributed to this report.