BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — Republican backlash over President Barack Obama's health care overhaul had little effect in the nation's first U.S. House race of 2010.
Florida Democratic state Sen. Ted Deutch handily won Tuesday's special election to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler after his underdog GOP opponent attempted to make the contest a referendum on the massive health care bill.
"We've heard for months that tonight ... is a referendum on health care, it's a referendum on the (Obama) administration, it's a referendum on what direction this country is going," Deutch told supporters. "Let me tell you something, what we learned today is that in Broward County and Palm Beach County, Florida, the Democratic Party is alive and well."
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Deutch, an attorney, had 62 percent of the vote compared to 35 percent for Republican Ed Lynch. No-party candidate Jim McCormick trailed far behind with just 3 percent.
Lynch, a 44-year-old West Palm Beach contractor, sought to make the race a statement on the health care bill in District 19, which includes parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties. About 40 percent of voters are senior citizens. But Lynch had a tough task. Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-to-1 — 234,000 to about 111,000.
"Obviously, it's not the results that we wanted," Lynch said.
"But it proved that people are willing to get out there and take our country back," he added of his supporters.
Wexler, a self-proclaimed "fire-breathing liberal," left office in January during his seventh congressional term to head a Middle East think tank. He was hugely popular in the district, which voted about 65 percent for Obama in 2008.
Wexler, of Boca Raton, had endorsed Deutch, 44, who will now serve the remaining eight months of Wexler's term, then will have to run in November for re-election.
Lynch had hoped public disdain for the health care bill and low congressional approval ratings would help him upset Deutch, widely seen as the front-runner. He lambasted the health care overhaul as a government takeover and the gutting of Medicare, while Deutch told voters it would provide immediate relief.
Lynch also slammed Obama's stimulus bill as doing little to help the economy and called the president's timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq "moronic." Deutch said he would have voted for the health care overhaul and the stimulus bill and supports Obama's Iraq strategy.