Privately regarded by Republicans as a weak candidate, the former lobbyist Jolly overcame both funding obstacles and a Libertarian party challenger who received five percent of the vote to beat Democrat Alex Sink.
The race was widely considered a referendum on Obamacare, with top political prognosticators calling it a “must win” for Democrats in the weeks leading up to the election.
A Sink loss would "would almost certainly be regarded by dispassionate observers as a sign that President Barack Obama could constitute an albatross around the neck of his party’s nominees in November,” Stuart Rothenberg, one of the most highly respected political handicappers in the country, wrote in Roll Call.
The district, vacant because of the death of Rep. Bill Young, leaned Democratic. Obama won the district by four points in 2008 over John McCain and by a point over Mitt Romney in 2012, and Rothenberg analyzed that, "all things being equal, Sink has enough advantages to produce a narrow but clear victory."
And Sink outraised Jolly by $1.5 million dollars, although outside spending from both sides dwarfed the amount spent by either candidate.
Jolly was trailing Sink by 3 points in a Public Policy Polling poll a week before the race. Around that time, several embarassing news stories came out in which establishment Republicans seemed to be throwing Jolly under the bus to try to escape blame.
A week later, Jolly is headed to Washington.
“Tonight, one of Nancy Pelosi’s most prized candidates was ultimately brought down because of her unwavering support for ObamaCare, and that should be a loud warning for other Democrats running coast to coast," National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden said.
Jolly received 48.5 percent of the vote, Sink 46.6, and libertarian Lucas Overby 4.8%.