Politically conservative Catholics and Evangelicals may have played an important role in the surprising victory of Republican David Jolly over Democrat Alex Sink in Florida's Tuesday special election to fill the U.S. House seat for the state's district 13.
Volunteers for the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a nonprofit group that focuses on mobilizing politically conservative Christians in elections, visited 5,000 homes, made 10,000 phone calls, sent 22,000 pieces of mail, distributed 25,000 voter guides at churches, and sent electronic voter guides through social media, email and text messaging that was viewed 403,929 times, according to an FFC press release.
Jolly won narrowly, 48.5 to 46.7 percent, in a race that national Democrats had earlier touted as an easy win. Though the district has not been held by a Democrat since the 1980s, it was widely believed to be moving in the Democrat's direction, just as the surrounding Tampa-area districts have done. In 2008 and 2012, a majority of the district voted for Barack Obama for president, and in 2010 a majority of the district voted for Sink when she ran for governor.
In the only two non-partisan polls taken in the race, from Saint Leo University and Tampa Bay Times, Sink was leading by nine percentage points and seven percentage points, respectively, just a month before the race. The day of the election, Sean Trende, senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics, predicted a three to four percentage point victory for Sink.
The race was being touted by both parties as a barometer for the upcoming 2014 midterm elections. Nearly nine million dollars was spent on TV ads in the gulf coast district. Of that, Jolly was outspent by over one million dollars.
The "ground war" campaign waged by FFC, using volunteers to personally contact voters, rather than the "air war" of buying TV and radio ads, may have made the difference.
"Our people worked hard, knocking on thousands of doors and making thousands of voter calls," said Regina Brown, state field director for Florida FFC, who led the volunteer effort. "We wanted to make sure Christians were educated on where the candidates stood and that they went to the polls."
In a January interview with The Christian Post, Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of Faith and Freedom Coalition, complained that Republicans spend too much money on the air war and not enough on the ground war.
"While conservatives have done a good job of raising funds to pay for media buys through organizations like Americans for Prosperity, the Romney super-PAC, and American Crossroads, they have not done as good a job as the Left in raising funds for grassroots activities, and that needs to be corrected," he said.
District 13 was formerly held by Republican Bill Young, who passed away in October.