(CNN) – Candidate David Jolly will be the Republican nominee in a special election to fill a vacant House seat in Florida that was held by the GOP for decades.
"It is with great respect...that I accept your nomination to be the #Republican Candidate to represent #Pinellas County,” Jolly wrote on Twitter Tuesday night.
According to Florida’s Department of State website, Jolly won 45% of the vote in Tuesday’s GOP primary, with 100% of precincts reporting Tuesday night.
The primary in Florida's 13th Congressional District sets the stage for a March special election that some political pundits are billing as barometer for November's midterm elections.
The winner of the special election will fill the remainder of the term of Republican Rep. Bill Young of Florida, who died in October. Young, who was first elected to Congress in 1970, was the longest serving Republican in the House. Jolly served as Young’s former general counsel for Young and also worked as a lobbyist.
Jolly will face off against Alex Sink, the former chief financial officer of Florida and the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nominee. Sink is the Democratic Party's consensus candidate.
Jolly defeated freshman state Rep. Kathleen Peters and retired Marine Corps Brigadier General Mark Bircher in the GOP primary.
The district covers most of Pinellas County and parts of St. Petersburg and it's up for grabs: While Young captured 58% of the vote in his 2012 re-election, President Barack Obama narrowly carried the district. Obama also won it 2008, grabbing 51% support.
"It's rare in politics that anything other than a presidential contest is viewed as a 'must win' – but the special election in Florida's 13th District falls into that category for Democrats," writes Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report, and a leading political handicapper.
"Since most nonpartisan handicappers and analysts have for years expected this seat to go Democratic when it became open, a Republican victory in March would likely say something about the national political environment and the inclination of district voters to send a message of dissatisfaction about the president. And that possibility should worry the White House."
Another top non-partisan political handicapper, the Cook Political Report, agrees.
"House Democrats badly need to prove they can win an evenly split district like FL-13 in order to reclaim any momentum heading into the spring. But, even with a well-funded, well-known nominee potentially running against a former lobbyist, there is no guarantee they will prevail at a time when Obama's approval ratings are mired in the low 40 percent range," writes David Wasserman, the Cook Report's House editor.
Jolly's lobbying career in the nation's capital could hurt him in the special election. In fact, Democrats were bringing it up just minutes after he won the primary.
"Washington lobbyist David Jolly helped stack the deck for special interests and ignore Pinellas families," said Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a statement Tuesday night.
Jolly, however, can tap into his large political rolodex, as he pledges to carry on the legacy of his former boss. He led Peters in fundraising and went up on TV with ads touting endorsement's from St. Petersburg's mayor and Bob Barker, the former longtime host of the "Price is Right."
In return, Republicans will likely align Sink up with the President's health insurance law, which got off to a rocky start in recent months.
"Whether it is her support of Obamacare or her dismal record of wasting money in Florida, Pinellas voters will know that Alex Sink is a risk they can’t afford in Congress," said Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, in a statement Tuesday.
While the Republican candidates have been fighting each other, Sink has built up a formidable war chest. And she'll need it, as well as her strong name recognition, as the electorate in the March special election may be more favorable to the Republicans than the Democrats.