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Republican David Jolly beats Alex Sink in Florida special election

 

Republican David Jolly narrowly defeated Democrat Alex Sink on Tuesday in a Tampa-area House race largely seen as a critical test for ObamaCare.

With nearly 100 percent of the vote counted, Jolly had 48.5 percent of the vote to Sink's 46.7 percent. Libertarian Lucas Overby had 4.8 percent.

The race to replace the late Rep. Bill Young was considered a tossup, and was cast as a political bellwether, and a testing ground for each party's messaging strategy -- which revolves in part around the Affordable Care Act. 

Jolly told "Fox & Friends" on Wednesday that Democrats suffered in the race from embracing the health care law. 

"I think it gives Democrats reason to worry going into November," he said, while adding he won't "take a mandate" out of the victory. 

Jolly's election night headquarters in Clearwater Beach erupted into loud cheers as it became clear he was the winner. In his victory speech, Jolly simultaneously struck a conciliatory tone and expressed gratitude for his mentor, Young, and Young's family. Jolly was introduced by former "Price is Right" game show host Bob Barker, via video. Young's two adult sons were also onstage with Jolly, and he embraced them at the end of his speech.

Jolly didn't mention the issue that dominated much of the campaign — the president's health care package — and instead said that Pinellas County must work together.

"This race is not about defending a broken agenda in Washington or advancing a broken agenda in Washington. This race is about serving the people in our own community," he said. "Let's dispense with the rancor and vitriol of the last five months."

Jolly thanked Sink and Overby and said it was "OK" that tens of thousands of others voted for his opponents.

"While this campaign at times seemed to be partisan, your next congressman is not partisan," he said.

Meanwhile, national Republican groups swiftly got to work casting Jolly's victory as a blow to ObamaCare and those who support it.

“Tonight, one of Nancy Pelosi’s most prized candidates was ultimately brought down because of her unwavering support for ObamaCare, and that should be a loud warning for other Democrats running coast to coast," said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. "Pinellas County voters have made the right choice; David will be a dedicated and thoughtful representative for them in Congress.”

In St. Petersburg, Sink's party was subdued. Backed by her adult children, Sink began her concession speech by thanking her campaign team and the thousands of volunteers who helped her congressional bid. She spoke to a couple hundred stoic supporters in a half-empty ballroom at a lakeside Hilton in St. Petersburg.

"We know that life brings many challenges. It brings many opportunities. My values have always been to do good for my family and for my community," she said.

"We don't know what the future holds," she said, "but I'll do what I've always done and continue to serve my community.

"Although we're disappointed, the bars are open," she said.

With that, Sink left the ballroom.

Jolly, a former aide to Young, had, along with Republican groups spent millions to hammer his Democratic opponent over ObamaCare.

Sink, who narrowly lost the 2010 governor's race to incumbent Gov. Rick Scott, had cautiously embraced the health law -- while insisting it urgently needs fixing. She had played down its importance in the special election.

"I hear a number of different issues that people are concerned about -- like protecting Social Security and Medicare," she said. "They're frustrated with Washington, believe that Washington is not working for them."

The perception of what the race means had inspired both parties to call in star advocates like President Bill Clinton and former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, in addition to blanketing the district with ads, calls and mailings. More than $11 million was been spent on the race, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit group that tracks government information. More than one in four registered voters in the district is older than 65, a population that could account for more than half of those casting ballots.

The battle for Florida's 13th District seat was a prequel of sorts to the national fight this year over who controls Congress in the last two years of Obama's final presidential term. The House is expected to remain under Republican control. But in the Senate, Republicans are hoping to leverage Obama's unpopularity and his health care law's wobbly start to gain the six seats required to control the 100-member chamber.

That made the race in Florida a pricey proving ground for both parties, with the candidates the faces of the effort.

Jolly, backed by Republicans and outside groups, said Sink would undermine Medicare because of Democratic-passed cuts to programs under the health law.

Sink and her allies, meanwhile, painted Jolly an extremist who wants to privatize Social Security and gut Medicare.

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 her behalf. More than a third of Jolly's campaign contributions came from members of Congress.

Meanwhile, Ryan had joined Jolly on a conference call with voters, while Kentucky Republican 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 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. The district is 37 percent Republican, 35 percent Democrat and 24 percent independent.

Sink had outspent Jolly by more than 3 to 1 on television advertising, though outside groups aligned with the GOP had narrowed the overall Democratic advantage.

Fox News' John Roberts and The Associated Press contributed to this report.