Young wasn't, Sink did, and Jolly is.

To paraphrase James Carville, it's the eponymy, stupid. The references are to Rep. Bill Young, who died at 82 in October, and the candidates in yesterday's special election to succeed him, Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly.

Young was a Republican, but many political observers gave Sink the edge in the St. Petersburg-area district where Barack Obama narrowly outpolled Mitt Romney. On paper, she was a stronger candidate, having been elected statewide (as chief financial officer, in 2006). Jolly is, as David Freddoso puts it, a lobbyist "with personal issues--a divorce, a girlfriend people referred to as his 'child bride,' and an auto accident from decades ago in which he'd killed someone." There was also a Libertarian in the race, who pulled nearly 5% of the vote. Nonetheless, Jolly won the seat with a 48.5% plurality.

Professional political observers and journalists touted the election as a bellwether. "It's rare in politics that anything other than a presidential contest is viewed as a 'must win'--but the special election in Florida's 13th District falls into that category for Democrats," wrote Stuart Rothenberg back in January:

A loss in the competitive March 11 contest would almost certainly be regarded by dispassionate observers as a sign that President Barack Obama could constitute an albatross around the neck of his party's nominees in November. And that could make it more difficult for Democratic candidates, campaign committees and interest groups to raise money and energize the grass roots.

Sure enough, here's National Journal's Josh Kraushaar:

The results are a clear warning sign to Senate Democrats, whose majority is threatened thanks to a Republican-friendly map and a national environment that's tilted in the GOP's favor. At least seven Democratic-held Senate seats are being contested in states more conservative than the Florida House battleground. Conservative groups, led by Americans for Prosperity, are already airing ads blasting Democratic senators for their support of Obamacare, and their attacks have negatively impacted the incumbents' poll numbers.

As for the House, Freddoso reproduces the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Red to Blue" target map, which shows in yellow and orange some 30 Republican seats the Democrats hope to pick up.

"How many of these look like better opportunities than Florida-13 was just now?" he asks. "I'm guessing maybe 5 of them, and even that might be generous." He names only two: California's 31st district, an open seat "which Republicans only kept in 2012 because of a fluke in California's goofy new primary system" (i.e., both candidates on the general-election ballot were Republicans), and New York's 11th, whose incumbent, Michael Grimm, in January threatened to "break" a reporter "in half."

Freddoso's bottom line: "Democrats are probably going to lose seats in the House this year." In unwitting support of that view, Salon's Brian Buelter attempts to explain away the Democrats' defeat and ends up mired in mush:

At a more nuanced level, of course, the picture's much less clear, and though it would be unwise of Democrats to convince themselves that the Republican strategy has been entirely vindicated and start freaking out, they should be clear-eyed about the implications, which are very hard to identify, and would've been hard to identify even if Sink had won narrowly.
Looking at this race in isolation, you have to disentangle a bunch of connected factors to suss out how much impact Obamacare had.

The Washington Examiner's Byron York concedes there's insufficient evidence to attribute the outcome solely to ObamaCare. "But there's no doubt that Sink's campaign showed the difficulties of the Democrats' defense of Obamacare," he adds:

Sink didn't have much to say about Obamacare. She defended the law and adopted the widely-used Democratic line that the president's health care law should be "fixed." But, like many other Democrats around the country, she had few actual ideas about how to fix it. . . .
Her website's issues page included a section headlined, "Improving the Affordable Care Act: Keep the Good, Fix the Bad," but did not suggest any ways to do so.

"Keep the good, fix the bad" may be the emptiest political slogan since "Hope and change" and "Yes, we can." And if that's what you want to do, electing members of Congress is superfluous anyway. "Fixes" to ObamaCare have been coming fast and furious from the Obama administration. The latest is a suspension of the individual mandate tax for two more years--through 2016--for anyone who claims a "hardship."

The Department of Health and Human Services effected that extension stealthily last week; the news was broken only today, in a Wall Street Journal editorial, which argues:

HHS is . . . trying to pre-empt the inevitable political blowback from the nasty 2015 tax surprise of fining the uninsured for being uninsured, which could help reopen ObamaCare if voters elect a Republican Senate this November. Keeping its mandate waiver secret for now is an attempt to get past November and in the meantime sign up as many people as possible for government-subsidized health care. Our sources in the insurance industry are worried the regulatory loophole sets a mandate non-enforcement precedent, and they're probably right. The longer it is not enforced, the less likely any President will enforce it.

All this for what purpose? Last week we noted a McKinsey & Co. study that found only 10% of previously uninsured Americans had signed up for ObamaCare policies. Forbes'sAvik Roy reckons that amounts to fewer than 500,000 people.

This week, however, ObamaCare defenders have been touting a new Gallup survey. "Don't Expect Conservative Media to Cover This New Obamacare Poll," taunts the headline of a post by The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn. "According to the survey, the percentage of uninsured Americans is down to 15.9 percent," he boasts. "That's lower than its peak last year and lower than it was in March 2010, when the Affordable Care Actbecame law."

"GOP certainty that the law is collapsing--and will deliver Republicans the Senate--deepened earlier this month after the administration announced [what was then] its latest delay," crows the Washington Post's Greg Sargent. "But today's Gallup numbers remind us we're inexorably moving into the realm of the concrete when it comes to the most important Obamacare metric of all--how many people are gaining heath [sic] care coverage."

"The realm of the concrete" could be taken as a reference to footwear. And even the unsophisticated Sargent is astute enough to note that "caution is in order" in interpreting the Gallup findings as vindicating ObamaCare. That's an understatement.

Gallup has been surveying Americans about their insurance status for six years, and while the most recent figure is the lowest since 2009, the survey found a smaller proportion of Americans uninsured in three 2008 surveys: 14.6%, 14.4% and 15.4%. Between 2009 and the second half of 2013, the figure stayed within a 1.4-point range, 16.1% to 17.5%. Then in the third quarter of 2013, it shot up to 18% before dropping to 17.1% in the fourth quarter of 2013 and 15.9% this year.

The recession seems an obvious explanation for the rise in 2008-09, but the cause of last year's spike is unclear. One possibility is that outlying figures are the result of sampling error. It's a large survey--28,000 people--but the margin of error is still plus or minus 1%. The range of figures--14.4% to 18% over six years--is fairly narrow in any case, a point that is perhaps clearer when you note that the corresponding proportion for the insuredranges from 82% to 85.6% and currently stands at 84.1%.

Further, as Cohn concedes, the McKinsey and Gallup results "may not even be inconsistent with one another." McKinsey looked only at the exchanges, whereas Gallup reflects those who are newly enrolled in Medicaid as well as those who would have lost their insurance had the administration adhered to the law's provisions mandating the cancellation of noncompliant policies.

To put it another way, it's quite possible that the uninsured rate has inched downward in spite of, rather than because of, ObamaCare's central "reforms." Further, shouldn't the number of uninsured have declined a lot more after five months of heavily subsidized or free coverage? The Democrats have never managed to sell ObamaCare to voters, but the administration can't even give it away.


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