When Will Democrats Learn? Lessons from Alex Sink’s 2014 Race

248704-hispanic-americans.jpg2014 was a disastrous year for Democrats, with Republicans seizing control of the Senate. This gave the GOP full control of Congress and the power to pin down President Obama during his last two years in office. After experiencing a pounding in the past two midterm elections, you’d think that Democrats would’ve learned a thing or two about running from President Obama and his progressive policies. Here’s what we know: When candidates ignore the New American Majority, they will ultimately lose. By running away from the President and his landmark Affordable Care Act, as did Democrat Alex Sink, in her bid for Florida’s 13th Congressional District; Sink surrendered her support from people of color, and with them her hopes of winning the election.

It was widely thought that Sink had a strong chance of winning; Obama had carried the district twice, and Sink had carried the district in her gubernatorial campaign in 2010. Conversely, her Republican challenger David Jolly, a former lobbyist and former general counsel to U.S. Representative Bill Young, had made headway in the polls, but lacked the campaign experience Sink did. In a close race, Sink came in with 46.6% of the vote, just losing to Jolly's 48.4%.

Sink’s biggest mistake was her campaign’s stance towards President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA). Sink routinely stated that the healthcare law should be changed, but not repealed. While the Republican base in Florida was fired up by Jolly’s calls for repeal of the ACA, Democrats suffered a loss of morale, as Sink tried to avoid conversation on the topic of healthcare. Communities of color who have benefitted the most from the ACA were especially demoralized and thus unmotivated to vote for a candidate who would remove herself so far from the President. According to anUrban Institute surveylower income individuals and families are more likely to have a higher favorability of the Affordable care Act. African-Americans in particular arethree times more likelyto have a favorable view of the law compared to Whites. If you can’t champion your President and a policy that has directly affected our community, what else aren’t you going to champion?

And the results showed on Election night, in a district with 21% voters of color and a history of Democratic wins in the district, voters of colors were clearly unmotivated to go to the polls, so they stayed home. The March special election witnessed a 42.9% turnout among white voters, a number comparable to that of the 2010 election, but turnout among Black voters dropped to 24.6%, Latino voters dropped to 19.7% and voters of other races dropped to 24.1%. Sink only needed 3,500 votes to defeat Jolly. Consequently, if she had been able to just raise the African American turnout to those in her gubernatorial run (42.9%), she would’ve won.

What cost Sink an election where many considered her to be a shoo-in? The answer comes from an extraordinarily low voter turnout from communities of color, whose importance was neglected throughout Sink’s entire campaign. Had these voters been as motivated in 2014 as they were in 2012 and in 2010 during with her gubernatorial bid, our votes could have easily lifted Sink up the 2% she needed to win the election. But without them, Sink’s campaign turned what could have been a sure victory into an unfortunate loss.