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First Thoughts: Dismal Outlook for Dems in Florida Race Results

Image: David Jolly

FILE - In this Nov. 23, 2013, file photo Republican David Jolly thanks supporters during a campaign rally in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla. Jolly is a candidate in the GOP primary for a special election to succeed the late Republican Rep. Bill Young, who died last month. Obamacare is on the ballot in a big way in a competitive House race in Florida that offers a preview of the nationwide campaign for Congress this fall. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius, File) Steve Nesius / AP

NBC/WSJ poll shows GOP with the early midterm advantage… Why Democrats lost in FL-13: Their voters didn’t show up… Obama’s numbers are stuck, per our new poll… Dissatisfaction with ALL of Washington could spell problems for GOP, too… Tea Party Republicans more fired up than non-Tea Party Republicans… Feinstein vs. Brennan… 4.2 million have enrolled in health-care plans through February, with March being a big month… And Rick Scott goes up with TV ad in Florida.

Advantage GOP

Republicans on Tuesday night won the closely watched special congressional election in Florida, helping to answer the question we asked before the race: What’s the more potent force -- an individual campaign or the overall environment? That answer from last night: the environment. And just how bad does the environment look for Democrats less than eight months before November’s midterm elections? Well, it’s not pretty, according to our brand-new national NBC/WSJ poll. President Obama's job-approval rating has dropped to a low point of 41%, never a good position for the party controlling the White House. By a 33%-to-24% margin, Americans say their vote will be to signal opposition to the president rather than to signal support, though 41% say their vote will have nothing to do about Obama. In addition, 48% of voters say they're less likely to vote for a candidate who's a solid supporter of the Obama administration, versus 26% who say they're more likely to vote for that candidate. And Republicans hold a one-point edge over Democrats on which party registered voters prefer to control Congress, 44 percent to 43 percent. While that's within the poll's margin of error, Republicans have traditionally fared well in elections when they've held a slight lead on this question. "The wind is in our face," says Democratic pollster Fred Yang of Hart Research, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. "There is an advantage for Republicans right now."

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A Tale of Two Districts: Red vs. Blue

Yet a big part of that advantage is the GOP-leaning landscape, where many of the top Senate contests will take place in states like Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina -- all of which Obama lost in 2012. Indeed, the poll shows a major difference between blue areas controlled by Democrats and red areas controlled by Republicans. In congressional districts held by Republicans, Obama's approval rating is a mere 33%; attitudes about the GOP aren't that negative (30%-41% fav/unfav rating); and 50% are less likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by the president. By comparison, in districts held by Democrats, the president's approval rating is 51%; the GOP's fav/unfav rating is significantly upside-down (23%-50%); and just 29% are less likely to vote for a candidate Obama has endorsed. "There may be an anti-Democratic wave, but it is in GOP districts," Yang says. So that’s the hope for Democrats -- that while they might lose many of the Senate contests in red states, they might be able to weather the rough headwinds in places like Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and New Hampshire. But here’s where that FL-13 contest should scare Democrats: That was MUCH FRIENDLIER terrain than they’re going to see in many of the top Senate races this November, and they still lost.

Why Democrats lost in FL-13

Their voters didn’t show up: For Democrats, losing FL-13 wasn’t necessarily bad. What was bad is how they lost it: Their voters didn’t show up. Turnout last night was 183,634. However, in the 2012 general election -- when Obama narrowly carried the district -- turnout was nearly double at 329,347. And even in the 2010 election, turnout in that district was 266,934. Last night, we heard a lot of spin from Democrats that the electorate was GOP-leaning. But here’s a lesson for Democrats: You’re going to have a GOP-leaning electorate when your voters don’t show up. Of course, it’s also not unfair to point the finger at the Democratic candidate, Alex Sink, who has now lost to a businessman whose firm admitted to multiple counts of Medicare fraud (Rick Scott) and a lobbyist (David Jolly). The biggest criticism we heard from Democrats is how risk-averse a race Sink tried to run. And that’s a lesson for the Kay Hagans and Mary Landrieus running in 2014: You can’t be risk-averse. One other thing for Democrats: Any talk about being able to net the 17 seats needed to win back the House should be pretty much over. FL-13 was EXACTLY the kind of seat Democrats needed to get to 17.

Obama is stuck

Turning back to our NBC/WSJ poll, one other unmistakable conclusion is that Obama seems stuck. According to the poll, 41% of Americans approve of his overall job performance, while 54% disapprove -- Obama’s worst job approval rating in the survey's history. An additional 41% approve of the president's economic and foreign-policy handling. (Indeed, Obama's current standing isn't far removed from former President George W. Bush's position before the 2006 midterms, when Republicans lost control of the U.S. Senate and House: The March 2006 NBC/WSJ poll had Bush's job-approval rating at 37%.) Some of the erosion in Obama's numbers is coming from Democrats, with a record-high 20% of his party now disapproving of the president's job performance. But if you want to know why Obama is stuck, just look at the other numbers: Just 26% think the country is headed in the right direction, and 57% think the U.S. economy is still in a recession. It’s hard for a president to get out of the low 40s with those types of numbers.

Dissatisfaction with ALL of Washington could spell problems for GOP, too

While the GOP might hold the early midterm edge, the public's dissatisfaction with all of Washington's political players could spell trouble for some Republicans, too. Obama's favorable/unfavorable numbers (41%-44%) in the poll are better than the Republican Party's (27%-45%) and Tea Party's (23%-41%). "For all the bad news for the president and the Democratic Party, if this were a beauty contest, the Republicans would not win any prize," says Yang, the Democratic pollster. Indeed, a majority of voters in the poll say they would vote to defeat their own representative to Congress and wish they could replace every sitting member if given the chance. So if you wanted to see why -- in this tough environment for Democrats -- someone like Mitch McConnell is fighting for his political survival, you have your answer.

Tea Party Republicans more fired up than non-Tea Party Republicans

There’s another set of numbers that stood out to us in the NBC/WSJ poll: 76% of Republicans who are Tea Party supporters say they’re very interested in November’s elections, compared with just 36% of non-Tea Party Republicans. That’s further evidence that some of the GOP incumbents facing Tea Party challenges -- think Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, Pat Roberts in Kansas, and Thad Cochran in Mississippi -- have their work cut out for them.

Feinstein vs. Brennan

Turning to yesterday’s drama on Capitol Hill, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported that Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) accused the CIA of secretly tracking the Senate's investigation into one of the worst abuses in recent CIA history -- the detention and interrogation under George W. Bush widely viewed as torture. “I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search many well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution,” Feinstein said. Brennan denied the allegation, telling Mitchell: “We weren’t trying to block anything, and the matter is being dealt with in the appropriate way.” What to watch for here is that Democrats have been skeptical about Brennan for a long time.

4.2 million have enrolled in health-care plans

The Obama administration released new health-care numbers yesterday: 4.2 million had enrolled in a health-care plan via the exchanges through February -- 2.6 million on the federal marketplace and 1.6 million on the state ones. It also announced that 25% of the enrollees are considered “young adults.” So the administration needs a big March to get close to the projections/goals of having 7 million enrollees and about 40% being young adults that were established before the website woes in October and November. The administration has come a LONG way on health care, but it still has a LONG way to go. As for the health-care law’s popularity, it remains unpopular per our new NBC/WSJ poll, with 35% saying it’s a good idea and 49% saying it’s a bad one. But the poll also finds that the health-care law is a jump ball as an issue when it is framed as a choice between fixing the law and repealing it: 48% of voters say they're more likely to vote for a Democrat who supports fixing and keeping the health-care law, versus 47% who are more likely to back a Republican who favors repealing and eliminating the law.

Rick Scott goes up with TV ad in Florida

Lastly, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is up with his first true campaign TV ad. It’s a big buy ($2.2 million statewide), and it’s a positive spot.

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