Rove Cautions Republicans: No, The Florida Special Election Wasn’t All About Obamacare

March 13, 2014 8:38 a.m.

Karl Rove seems worried that some Republicans might be celebrating prematurely after the party’s triumph in Tuesday’s special congressional election in Florida.

“Don’t uncork the champagne,” Rove cautioned his fellow Republicans in a Wall Street Journal column published online late Wednesday.

There’s been ample debate over the implications of Republican David Jolly’s victory over Democrat Alex Sink in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Was it a referendum on Obamacare? Was Sink’s demise a harbinger of a Democratic wipeout in November?

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According to Rove, it’s complicated.

While the former top strategist to George W. Bush said that the special election proved Obamacare to be “a potent issue that hurts Democrats badly,” he quickly added that the issue “isn’t sufficient by itself.”

In fact, Rove believes that Sink’s career as a bank executive likely played a larger role in her defeat than did her support for the health care law.

The Republican campaign also understood that Ms. Sink’s record mattered. GOP ads pointed out that as president of NationsBank (now Bank of America BAC +0.23% ) in Florida, she collected $8 million in salary and bonuses while thousands of bank jobs were cut. Ads also noted that as Florida’s chief financial officer Ms. Sink approved lucrative contracts with her former bank, and that Florida’s pension funds lost billions between 2007 and 2010.

Her record made voters even less likely to support her than did her backing of ObamaCare. Expanding the debate and exploiting multiple, not just a single, vulnerability helped Mr. Jolly win swing voters.

Of course, Sink also wasn’t saddled with a vote to pass Obamacare, a record that many Democratic incumbents will carry into their races this year.

Still, Sink’s pollster maintained that the health care law gives Democrats an opportunity “to play offense, and not just defense.” And the White House insisted that Obamacare wasn’t the overriding factor in the special election.

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