(Bloomberg) — Republican David Jolly won a special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District Tuesday.
Jolly upset a Democratic rival in a race that drew at least $8.8 million in spending from outside groups.
Both parties cast the race as a political test for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and November’s midterm elections.
Jolly led Democrat Alex Sink 48.5 percent to 46.6 percent, with 100 percent of precincts in the Tampa Bay-area district reporting, according to the Associated Press, which called the election.
Libertarian Lucas Overby attracted 4.8 percent of the vote.
With less than eight months remaining before midterm elections, strategists, political committees and elected officials poured resources into this district, buying ads that tested messaging on the PPACA, Social Security and abortion.
In a swing district where President Barack Obama won by 1.5 percentage points in 2012, Republicans see Jolly’s victory as an early harbinger for a wave election similar to 2010. In 2010, voter backlash over PPACA cost Democrats their majority in the U.S. House.
Jolly’s won in a district represented for four decades by the late Republican Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young. When Jolly takes office, Republicans will hold 233 congressional seats to the Democrats’ 199. There are three vacant seats in the 435-member House.
Jolly, a 41-year-old former lobbyist who raised less than half of Sink’s $2.5 million through Feb. 19, got help from outside groups that spent more than $5 million. Most of the ads from the outside groups slammed Sink over her support for PPACA.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s political committee spent at least $1.2 million on television and online ads that touted Jolly and attacked Sink over PPACA.
“Canceled health plans, higher premiums, Medicare cuts, people losing their doctors,” the narrator of one Chamber ad said. “A disaster for families and seniors. With Alex Sink, the priority is PPACA, not us.”
This was among the ads running as often as about 275 times daily in the district, with outside groups like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee testing which kinds of messages might work best with persuadable voters.
The ads aired throughout the Tampa Bay media market, home to one out of every four registered voters in Florida, said Susan MacManus, who teaches political science at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Ads ran more than 1,900 times in the final seven days before the election, according to New York- based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.