All-Star Panel: Impact of GOP win in Florida on midterm elections

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 12, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


DAVID JOLLY, R - FLORIDA REPRESENTATIVE-ELECT: I think we know what happens here today portends what happened in November. I think Republicans are in very good position. I'm pretty certain we'll hold the House. I think it also means now we begin to look at taking the Senate for real.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: First of all, this is a seat that was held by Republicans for 58 years, longer than you and I by a long – by a lot have been alive. Here's another thing I'll say. In 2006, Democrats lost every competitive election and went on to pick up 31 seats in November. In 2010, when House Democrats would go on to lose 63 seats and control of the chamber in the fall, they won every single competitive special election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So this is a good sign?


CARNEY: No, I think it's a single race.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: The White House responded to a special election, Florida 13, a big special election followed, and a lot of people obviously weighed in on it significance. David Jolly, the big winner, the Republican down there.  Let's bring in our panel, syndicated columnist George Will, Kirsten Powers, USA Today columnist, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK, George, give it your best shot.

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Sink, the Democrat, had enormous advantages. The Democrats nationally cleared the field for her. She didn't even live in the district. They moved her in, assured she'd have no primary. This is a district Barack Obama carried twice. She had run statewide several times. She had been the chief financial officer of Florida, which mean she had universal name recognition. When she ran for governor and narrowly lost, she carried this district, essentially the same composition, by five points. That's her advantages.

Mr. Jolly's disadvantages were, first of all, he had been a Washington lobbyist, which is a toxic label to have down there. Second, he has a nine-week primary that depletes his finances that doesn't end until January 14th. On February 7th, they begin sending out absentee ballots and early voting started on March 1.

This turned out to be a mobilization election. Off-year elections usually are. In a normal presidential election 63 percent of people turn out, they are mobilized by all the presidential hoopla. An off-year election is about 48 percent. So the question is, who is going to be mobilized this year? Republicans turned out. They were mobilized by the Affordable Care Act. And she was not protected, Ms. Sink, by mend it, don't end it.

BAIER: I heard all kinds of Democratic responses. Paul Begala on another channel said it's time to suck it up. Just realize that it's time to move on and fight another battle. Others said, you know, this is a good thing, and you heard the White House trying to spin it there. Thoughts on the implications and what it means, and do Democrats in vulnerable red states look at that and start distancing themselves even further from the president?

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, USA TODAY: Well, if they conclude it really was about ObamaCare, then they may have to be doing something on ObamaCare.  I don't think that it's clear that it was about ObamaCare. Even Jolly was saying it wasn't really the thing that -- these were not the issues we raised.  It wasn't central. There were a lot of outside ads coming in.

That said, it clearly sends a message to Democrats. It sends a message that they're in trouble, something we frankly knew already. And I think that, you know, for them to claim that this wasn't a seat they thought they were going to pick up, Democrats, that's just not true. The DCCC had this as one of their top open seat opportunities in January. This was expected to go Democratic earlier in the year, and it should have been a Democratic seat for all the reasons that George laid out. And so I think what it says is, you know, as we already knew, the Democrats are in trouble.

BAIER: You add to that the latest polls. The Fox News poll with the president's approval rating at 38 percent, the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll he is at 41 percent, well, just not good numbers for the White House.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: And the NBC poll asked if you would be more or less inclined to support a candidate who supports Obama or who opposes Obama? There was about a 20-point spread so that if you supported Obama, you were in deep trouble.

I don't think there's any question. Of course there were a lot of local issues, but the one issue that permeates all discussions is ObamaCare, which in and of itself is not just a symbol but it's the embodiment of Obama's entire domestic policy, overreaching, very expensive, intrusive, and I think the verdict is in on this.

And if you have a candidate like Sink who was not in Congress and, thus, didn't have to be committed one side or the other, in other words, hadn't already cast a vote, it is clear that if you are a candidate who doesn't have a voting record in Congress on this, you should just say you are against it. She decided she would say I want to fix it. That is not a winning formula.

There's only one caveat here. I agree that she had all the advantages and Jolly had none, essentially. He was a lousy candidate and he is a lobbyist. But special elections have a lower turnout. This one had about a third of the turnout of the midterm elections in 2010, even less if you compare to the turnout in 2012. So if you compare to 2010 and assume that that turnout will be the same this year -- so if you have a lower turnout you obviously are getting the more energized voters. And it's ObamaCare that would energize a person to go out and vote. So it doesn't necessarily translate into an automatic victory at the end of the year if you atch up the two candidates.

BAIER: Although she underperformed 2010 as well. So she's -- she kind of underperformed as well.

George, this issue, ObamaCare, for Republicans across the board, is it the issue? And is it enough to take them into November or is it like something that is hanging out there that's almost too good to be true?

WILL: Right, if it's too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true, because what people don't need to be told this about ObamaCare. They have made up their mind about that. But as Charles says, this really is -- ObamaCare is really shorthand for the whole stance toward public life and toward how to run the government, and people are, I think, rejecting that.

In 2010, Barack Obama's job approval rating was seven points higher than it is today and the Democrats lost 63 seats. This means nothing to the House. The Republicans are going to hold the House. There probably aren't 30 competitive seats out of 435. For the Senate what this means is Democratic senators have to run five, six, seven, eight points ahead of the president in order to win, his approval rating, and that just doesn't happen very often. Furthermore, Bill McInturff, a fine Republican pollster asked the simple question, where can President Obama campaign for Democrats this year?

BAIER: Is the administration holding off the individual mandate?  Kathleen Sebelius up on Capitol Hill today, is this something different?  When we come back, we'll talk about that with the panel.  

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