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David Jolly keeps Florida U.S. House seat in GOP hands

Jolly, a Washington lobbyist and former House aide, defeats Democrat Alex Sink in 13th District special election

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

florida mugST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CFP) — Republican David Jolly has won a special election for Florida’s vacant 13th U.S. House District, narrowly beating Democrat Alex Sink and dashing Democratic hopes of taking away what had been seen as a vulnerable GOP seat.

U.S. Rep-elect David Jolly

U.S. Rep-elect David Jolly

Jolly won 48.5 percent in the March 11 race, compared to 46.6 percent for Sink, a margin of less than 3,500 votes. Libertarian Lucas Overby carried 4.8 percent.

National Democratic officials had pulled out all the stops for Sink, including visits by Vice President Joe Biden and Bill Clinton. The main fault line in the campaign was Obamacare, which Sink embraced and Jolly opposed.

Jolly, 41, is a Washington lobbyist and former aide to the late U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, who held the St. Petersburg-based seat for more than 42 years before his death in October.

Sink, 65, is the state’s former chief financial officer. She was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2010, narrowly losing to Gov. Rick Scott.

Democratic nominee Alex Sink

Democratic nominee Alex Sink

Sink does not live in the district. But after she was recruited to run by national party officials, other Democrats in Pinellas County stepped aside.

Outside Democratic and Republican groups had poured more than $9 million into the race, which was seen as a bellweather of their political prospects heading into November’s mid-term election.

While Republicans hold a lead in party registration in the 13th District, President Barack Obama narrowly carried it in both 2008 and 2012. The district is one of only three Republican-held seats in the South that went for Obama in 2012.

Jolly will have to defend the seat in November, and he told Fox News that he expects Democrats to come at him just as hard.

“This will be just as close of a race,” he said.

In her concession speech, Sink did not say if she plans to seek the seat again in  November.

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