It’s eight months ahead of a rash of elections that could shift political dynamics nationwide, but don’t call the race to fill Pinellas County’s open congressional seat a harbinger of things to come, experts say.
Some have called the upcoming vote to determine who will fill the Congressional District 13 seat held for more than 40 years by the late Congressman Bill Young a bellwether. The word’s been attached to plenty of races in recent history as some try to divine the outcome of future races. But those closely observing the unfolding race say for a number of reasons, the result of the March 11 contest won’t be the fortune-telling tool media and pundits are hoping for ahead of the midterm elections next November.
“It’s dangerous to give predictive value to special elections,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of DC politics blog Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “You really can’t, and you really shouldn’t.”
For one, local issues within a given congressional district might not reflect the national population. A case-in-point, Kondik said, is the election to fill the New York seat of disgraced Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner. When Weiner resigned in 2011, a Republican won the seat — not because of some imminent GOP sweep (which never happened), but because voters within the largely Orthodox Jewish district were critical of President Obama’s Israel policies, Kondik said.
The political dynamics of Florida’s 13th has its own characteristics that don’t reflect those on the national level.
About a quarter of the electorate are not affiliated with a party, though they’ve mostly sided with Democrats in recent state and national level elections. Those who are party members tend not to be extreme.
“CD-13 is a unique district in that it does not reflect the partisan tempers of either side,” said Peter Schorsch, the consultant and blogger behind SaintPetersBlog.
That’s why candidates on either side tend to have more nuanced answers to questions that would elicit hyperbole in more polarized places, he said, even on the controversial Affordable Care Act. Schorsch said while the January primary and March general election might not be indicators of November’s political climate, they could be the first gauge of public sentiment over the health law’s rollout. Whether those results stick through November is the question.
“I still think Obamacare/(The Affordable Care Act) will be a big issue in November 2014, I just don’t know how popular or unpopular it will be compared to today,” said Nathan Gonzales of DC blog “The Rothenberg Political Report.”
Since the start of the race, the political climate has shifted several times. In October, Republicans were maligned by the government shutdown. Democrats were soon after attacked for the Obamacare rollout. The water is calmer on both fronts now, but there’s no telling what will happen in the coming months.
“No matter what happens, a lot will change between the special election and the general election,” Kondik said “It’s possible that the seat will flip twice in that time period.”
While it may not be a harbinger for the November 2014 midterm elections, the special election could have other implications, especially for Florida Democrats.
“A lot of people in the state would come to the conclusion that Democrats finally have their act together,” said USF St. Petersburg professor emeritus of government Darryl Paulson. “It would help them tremendously in terms of candidate recruitment” and fundraising.
The party has struggled to gain footing over the past several decades, but some say the State House District 36 special election and the St. Petersburg mayor’s race, which both yielded Democrat victories, were a boon to them, and the District 13 seat would be a trifecta for the party statewide, if they win it.
“If they don’t win, they will continue to look for their proverbial Democratic Moses to lead them out of the wilderness,” Paulson said.