Last Tuesday in Florida's 13th district -- not a "Hunger Games" reference, I promise -- a pretty pitiful Republican candidate beat a pretty pitiful Democratic candidate. Florida Republicans rushed out the door to claim Jeb Bush saved the GOP. They all want jobs in a Bush 2016 campaign. Republican outside groups claimed it was about Obamacare. Democrats claimed the GOP outspent the Democrats.
The fact is Democrats and their outside groups outspent Republicans. The district, nominally Republican, had been trending Democratic. President Obama won the district. The Democrats' candidate, Alex Sink, won the district when she ran for Governor. But she lost it this time.
The fact is also that the Republicans danced around Obamacare as the defining issue in the race. Outside groups pressed the issue more than Republicans. Likewise, special elections are rarely harbingers of anything in general elections. In 2009, the Democrats won several special elections for Congress. They beat their chests proclaiming their permanent Democratic majority. Then they lost.
There are other facts, though. Democrats keep telling themselves Obamacare is not a losing issue for them. They look at polls of "all adults" and find a pretty even split between those who like the law and those who hate the law. But, "all adults" do not vote. Not even all registered voters vote. But registered voters, unlike all Americans or even all adults, can vote. Among that group, the president's signature achievement has never been popular. A majority have always wanted it repealed or dramatically rewritten.
Among voters most likely to vote in an off-year election -- independents, whites, Republicans and other groups who feel marginalized -- Obamacare is not only unpopular, but the more a person hates it, the more a person is likely to vote. Democrats may console themselves that all Americans are split on the issue, but that ignores the fast-approaching train of change barreling down the tracks toward them.
Despite the Democrats' own echo chamber providing them relief and comfort, they will most likely have a terrible election year. That leaves Republicans to sort out what kind of Republicans they will put in charge of the Congress. The focus of the fight is over Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.
McConnell is the Senate Republican Leader. He has been in Washington since 1985, when the National Debt hovered around $1.8 trillion. Since 1985, the national debt has skyrocketed over $17 trillion, with Sen. McConnell collaborating to give President Obama a blank check through March 15, 2015, to raise the debt still further.
Since 2010, Mitch McConnell has claimed a conservative voting record, though he uses the word "conservative" loosely. He has also backed a series of candidates who were less than conservative.
In 2010, McConnell and the National Republican Senatorial Committee threw their weight behind Arlen Specter against Pat Toomey, Charlie Crist against Marco Rubio, and Trey Grayson against Rand Paul. Specter and Crist became Democrats. Trey Grayson now works with a Democratic super PAC helping get Democrats elected.
In 2012, the Republican establishment in Washington, of which McConnell is a part, also opposed Ted Cruz in his Republican primary. Imagine a Senate with Mitch McConnell's choices -- Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and Trey Grayson, but no Rand Paul, Mike Lee or Ted Cruz. Republicans will most likely keep the House and gain the Senate in 2014. These are just facts. The question, running through the Kentucky Republican primary, is what sort of Republicans will the party's voters send.
The direction of the nation depends on this answer.