Since Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate, President Obama and Democrats have hammered the GOP ticket over the Wisconsin representative’s plan to reform Medicare. Normally, Republicans run from this issue. But lately, they think the Romney-Ryan team is actually helped by the debate, according to a National Journal Convention Insiders Poll conducted on Tuesday.
The poll—an anonymous survey of Democratic and Republican elected and party officials, grassroots activists, consultants, fundraisers, lobbyists, and allied interest-group leaders—found that majority of both GOP and Democratic operatives sense their respective standard-bearers can win on the Medicare issue. The insiders were asked, “Which candidate is helped more by a campaign debate over Medicare?” It is no surprise that nine out of 10 (92 percent) of the 134 Democratic Convention Insiders who responded said that Obama would be the beneficiary. What’s somewhat surprising is that more than half (53 percent) of the 160 Republican Convention Insiders who replied said that Romney was helped.
“A plan beats no plan,” reasoned one GOP Convention Insider. “Seniors already don’t like Obama; now younger voters will see that Ryan is thinking about the future while Obama merely seeks to exploit their parents’ and grandparents’ fears—what a contrast.” Echoed another, “A meaningful discussion of entitlements will always reward people with ideas.” And a third Republican Insider observed, “If the GOP can’t win a debate over entitlements against the backdrop of a $16 trillion deficit, turn out the lights, the party’s over.”
To be sure, Republicans were far less certain on whether the Medicare issue was a winner for their ticket. Twenty-six percent of the GOP Convention Insiders said that Obama was the candidate who gained from a Medicare debate, while 21 percent said neither candidate would benefit more than the other.
“While President Obama certainly has vulnerable points regarding Medicare, Gov. Romney's selection of Paul Ryan, right or wrong, has opened the campaign up to criticism on the issue,” noted one GOP Insider. “The Romney campaign's message needs to remain focused on the economy, while the Obama campaign will likely try to focus on anything but his record on the economy.” Another averred, “Democrats are great at 'Mediscare' tactics. They’ll be better able to evince a gut reaction on the issue.”
This is a not an easy discussion for the Republicans, even with an articulate advocate for Medicare reform like their vice presidential nominee. “Paul Ryan does an excellent job explaining this complicated issue in a straight forward and truthful manner,” said one GOP Insider. “But there still remains a very real problem—voters don't necessarily want to hear the truth.”
Still, if neither candidate gains the upper hand on Medicare, Republicans will happily take that deal. “It will end up as a draw,” predicted one GOP Insider, “which is far better than Republicans could have hoped for.”
Democrats say bring it on. The American people and seniors in particular just don’t trust Republicans on the issue of Medicare,” declared one Democratic Insider. “Republicans never win on Medicare,” echoed another.
And in swing states with large senior populations where Obama may need a boost, Democrats relish the opportunity for a Medicare debate. “This is a topic that Romney should steer clear of at all costs,” said one Democratic Convention Insider. “It will be used to destroy his appeal to seniors in critical states such as Florida—no Tampa convention can fix that.”
For a list of the Insiders, please visit nationaljournal.com/2012-conventions-insiders.