In the first television ad of his Senate campaign in Georgia, Rep. Phil Gingrey issued a pledge: If elected, he will not seek a second term unless Obamacare is repealed during his first one.
Sure, Gingrey's 71, so maybe it's a hollow gesture—senators nearing 80 might be a bit more wary of running for reelection. Still, it got some attention from his foes. Chief among them, Rep. Paul Broun blasted out a statement saying repeal isn't enough; he has written legislation to replace the hated health care law.
The botched implementation of the Affordable Care Act has handed Republicans a political tool to deploy against Democrats across the country next year. But Georgia's crowded GOP primary is demonstrating that the law also can be used in intra-party spats, as Republicans try to outdo one another with their opposition.
Indeed, that this pair of House conservatives (and physicians!) are on the same side of the health care fight isn't getting in the way of campaign-trail maneuvering that until now had looked pretty much limited to the more traditional Republican versus Democrat variety.
In Gingrey's TV spot, images of President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid flash across the screen as the candidate emphasizes the need to repeal Obamacare. Democrats are painted as the villains of the health care saga, but Gingrey's promise to only serve one term if the law isn't repealed is aimed in a different direction: at his fellow Republicans who, presumably, are unwilling to make the same promise.
"Every GOP Senate candidate says he or she wants to get rid of Obamacare, and this pledge is a way of putting some skin in the game," Gingrey spokeswoman Jen Talaber told National Journal.
The Georgians' jockeying is playing out in Washington too, where three days after Gingrey's ad was released House Republicans approved a bill that would allow health insurance providers to continue selling policies that don't meet the standards set by the Affordable Care Act. Broun voted no, saying the legislation did nothing to address Obamacare's long-term problems. He was one of only four Republicans to vote no and, perhaps more important, the only voice of opposition among Georgia's Senate hopefuls. Gingrey and fellow Rep. Jack Kingston, also seeking the GOP Senate nomination, voted for the measure.
Former Secretary of State Karen Handel, another contender for the GOP nod, can't vote to repeal the law but that's not stopping her from using its unpopularity to her own advantage. She's running radio ads criticizing members of Congress for receiving special treatment under Obamacare. The ads don't call out her competitors by name, but the spots ran on radio stations in all three of their districts.
Certainly, not every Republican is using Obamacare as a wedge issue in the primary. "We're just focused on doing what we can to fight the law and provide some relief to Georgians from it," said Kingston spokesman Chris Crawford. "I don't think we would engage in one-upmanship when it comes to it."
But the focus on Obamacare in the primary fight may only be a preview of the general election, when likely Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn will face a barrage of health-care-related attacks from her eventual Republican opponent. To win the nomination, that Republican first may have to survive a purity test, convincing GOP primary voters that he or she is the strongest voice in a crowd full of critics.
This article appears in the November 25, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.