The Supreme Court's judgment that the financial penalty imposed by the federal health care law is a tax rather than a fine is already becoming a focal point of recalibrated Republican attacks against President's Obama's signature measure and the down-ballot Democrats who support it. In North Dakota, Crossroads GPS is already up with a new version of a prior ad attacking Democratic nominee Heidi Heitkamp, which now highlights the tax-aspect of the overhaul.
Republicans targeting Heitkamp are not armed with the familiar arsenal they have used against Senate candidates who have voted for the stimulus, health care, and other laws ushered in by the Obama administration. That's because Heitkamp has never served in Congress. But she's on the record praising the president's health care plan, and Republicans are doubling down on the bet that it could sink her campaign.
To help shield herself from the attacks, Heitkamp has also tried to emphasize that she doesn't agree with all parts of the law. "I'll work with both parties to control costs, keep the good pieces intact and fix the bad pieces, like the individual mandate," said Heitkamp on Thursday, after the high court announced its ruling.
It's clear that Crossroads' believes that using the tax argument will pay dividends, otherwise the group wouldn't be using it in paid advertising. But while the ruling may have handed Republicans a new way to go after Democrats, it came at quite a cost. The fact that the law was left largely intact shields Heitkamp from having to defend an unconstitutional measure. Imagine that Crossroads ad - it would look more damaging than the one about taxes.
Time will tell whether the new GOP talking points will resonate with voters, or whether they will be less effective than the pre-ruling attacks. Political campaigns are like long boxing bouts; Democrats have won the latest round, but the GOP hopes it can score some points in the rounds yet to be decided.