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 A majority have always wanted it repealed or dramatically rewritten.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.