Three of the most vulnerable red-state Democrats are scrambling to neutralize the growing political threat that President Obama's health care law is posing to their reelection campaigns.
This week, Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas have undertaken a series of unusually aggressive maneuvers designed to distance themselves from the health care law, whose botched rollout has raised concerns it will become a major liability for the 2014 midterm elections. The defensive steps are a smart political play from lawmakers already preparing in earnest for their reelection campaigns, but also amount to a tacit admission that Obamacare has already become a major headache.
Hagan is preparing to ask the inspector general of the Health and Human Services Department and the General Accounting Office for a full investigation into the health care law's rollout, Politico first reported Monday. Begich, meanwhile, announced he personally enrolled in Alaska's health care exchange the same morning, declining to take the federal government's contribution to his plan. In a statement, he also called for a "full and transparent accounting of how the vendors contracted to build the site failed to launch it successfully,"
Pryor, considered the most vulnerable Senate Democrat next year, took the most aggressive action of the three. His campaign criticized a senior adviser working for Republican Rep. Tom Cotton for supporting a deal to implement Obamacare in Arkansas, according to The Hill. John Burris, who is a state lawmaker, voted earlier this year to effectively expand Medicaid in the state by helping poor citizens buy private insurance.
Pryor's campaign is hitting Cotton for calling for repeal even as one of his own senior strategists backs the state's health care system.
"Tom Cotton needs to explain why he would take away health care from the 63,000 Arkansans already enrolled under the private option," Pryor campaign manager, Jeff Weaver told The Hill.
This isn't the first time these three senators, all of whom backed Obamacare in 2010, have distanced themselves from the law. They have previously asked the enrollment period for the exchanges be delayed, and they support changes to law like repealing the medical device tax.
They're also not the only ones criticizing the health care law. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, who is running against a Republican physician, has been among the rollout's most vocal critics.
These Democrats' visible, vociferous criticism now is a signal of just how threatened the Democratic majority in the Senate is for 2014. And it has Republicans gloating.
"The panic has set in. The troops are restless," said Mitch McConnell, the Senate GOP leader, at a press conference on Tuesday. "And on a daily basis, you'll see some Democrat in some red state come up with some way to distance themselves from Obamacare."