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After Tough Florida Loss, Democrats Focus On November Turnout

In the wake of Tuesday’s devastating special-election loss, Democrats emphasized their party’s need to ensure the November electorate resembles the 2012 elections far more than the turnout in Florida’s 13th District did.

Both parties spent Wednesday shining a spotlight on their version of the larger lessons learned from the high-priced special election, which Republican David Jolly won by 2 points over Democrat Alex Sink. The race played out in a swing district and offered a glimpse of the messaging and turnout tactics Republicans and Democrats might use ahead of the November elections.

Republicans emerged not only successful in holding the party’s vacant seat, but also emboldened that the momentum in the midterm cycle is leaning in their favor. Democrats turned the focus to the vital role a well-financed field program will play this fall, as the party’s base tends to vote at a lower rate than Republicans in midterms.

“It underscores for Democrats how important turnout is and maximizing turnout,” Andy Stone of the Democrat-aligned House Majority PAC told CQ Roll Call. “It’s clear that Democrats have to invest really significant resources in getting our voters to the polls.”

It’s particularly consequential in the fight for the Senate, which has a greater probability of flipping, as Republicans need a six-seat net gain to win the majority. In a Wednesday morning email, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee echoed Stone’s sentiments, again promising an “unprecedented investment” for its turnout effort, which, unlike 2012, will not reap the benefits from the work of President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

“The takeaway from the special in Florida is that Democrats will need to invest heavily in a national field program in order to win in November,” DSCC spokesman Matt Canter said in the email.

Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called it a hard loss in a Wednesday morning news conference call. But he argued that Democrats were actually successful in their Election Day turnout program, altering the special-election electorate to make the race more competitive. He also downplayed the thinking that the special election could be a bellwether for November.

“Special elections are not indicators of the future,” Israel said. “They never have been, they never will be. And certainly this is not an indicator of the future.”

Meanwhile, House and Senate Republicans immediately cited the implementation of the president’s health care law as crippling for Democrats, particularly in districts and states Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried in 2012.

“I know Democrats are delirious from not sleeping last night, but their spin is getting down-right ridiculous,” Daniel Scarpinato, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement Wednesday. “They just lost an Obama district they were favored to win because of their continued support for ObamaCare, and now they have no plan how to win the Romney-voting congressional districts where they are desperately playing defense.”

As examples, the NRCC, led by Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon, cited the GOP-leaning districts held by Reps. Nick J. Rahall II, D-W.Va., John Barrow, D-Ga., and Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., where Tuesday’s result could be particularly troubling for Democrats. The NRCC also launched a “money bomb” effort, using its 2-point victory in the tossup district for an online fundraising plea.

By holding the seat of the late C.W. Bill Young, Republicans still have a 17-seat lead in the House, which is a high hurdle for Democrats to overcome. The GOP was also infused with a fresh sense of optimism for the party’s chances at winning the Senate.

In its daily newsletter, the National Republican Senatorial Committee said the race “exposed a sleeper issue” — Medicare Advantage — “that is giving already nervous Senate Democrats like Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu and especially Kay Hagan the shakes.”

On the conference call with Israel, Democratic pollster Geoff Garin said Democrats will see a turnout benefit in November — compared with Tuesday — simply because they are regularly scheduled elections. However, he conceded that the health care law did play a role in boosting Republican turnout in Florida’s 13th District, something the GOP believes will be true this fall as well.

“The one thing we do have to reckon with and acknowledge is that the Affordable Care Act was a motivating issue for Republicans to turn out and vote — and less so for Democrats,” Garin said.

Abby Livingston contributed to this report.

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