By picking Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney is betting that the electorate's view of entitlements has changed in their favor this year. His campaign has been making the case that by having a conversation about Medicare, it allows them to bring President Obama's unpopular health care law into the equation as well.
There's reason to take that argument seriously, strictly on the political merits. Obama's first campaign ad on Medicare hardly features the red-meat rhetoric against Romney-Ryan many expected. It spends as much time clarifying the Medicare provisions in Obama's health care law as attacking the Ryan plan, relying on the AARP to be a crucial validator in its message.
Adding credence to the GOP's case: Polls conducted in 28 battleground districts for the National Republican Congressional Committee, obtained by National Journal, which suggest Republicans aren't as vulnerable on the Medicare debate as the conventional wisdom suggests. Their pollsters tested both the Republican message on Ryan's plan (Ryan's plan doesn't touch anyone over 55, preserves Medicare for future generations, invokes ObamaCare), and the Democratic message against it (end Medicare as we know it through voucher system, seniors pay more out of pocket, rates will go up). When the results of all 28 polls were aggregated together, the GOP argument prevailed 46 to 36 percent.
Another counterintuitive finding from the polls showed that there was little correlation between the most senior-heavy districts and their response to the Medicare arguments.
For example, in the Michigan district where the DCCC is airing its first Medicare-themed attack against GOP Rep. Dan Benishek, the GOP argument prevailed 48 to 37 percent -- exactly by the same margin as the average of the 28 battleground districts. The district is a critical bellwether on the issue. It elected Benishek, a tea party-aligned congressman constituent angst over Obama's health care law. But it backed Obama for president in 2008, and contains the highest percentage of seniors in the state. The Michigan poll was conducted by the Republican polling firm The Tarrance Group, and surveyed 400 likely voters between April 10-11.
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