GOP Strategists: Don’t Bet the House on Obamacare

Party insiders say a single-issue campaign could fall short in 2014.

A man walks under a banner marking the anniversary of 'ObamaCare' outside of the Republican National Committee office on March 23, 2012 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
Feb. 11, 2014, 6:40 a.m.

Re­pub­lic­ans have an in­vit­ing map, a fa­vor­able en­vir­on­ment, and a com­pet­it­ive lineup of can­did­ates as the 2014 elec­tion ap­proaches — the per­fect mix to ex­pand their House ma­jor­ity and take the Sen­ate. Now they just have to ask them­selves: Are they go­ing to bet it all on Obama­care?

So far, they are. The con­ser­vat­ive Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity has spent roughly $27 mil­lion on ads already this cycle, nearly every penny of which has tar­geted Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bents’ sup­port for the Af­ford­able Care Act. A spe­cial House elec­tion in Flor­ida, where the two parties are con­test­ing a swing dis­trict near St. Peters­burg, has wit­nessed one ad after an­oth­er tar­get­ing the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee’s sup­port for the health care law. For con­ser­vat­ives es­pe­cially, tak­ing aim at Obama­care is an ir­res­ist­ible match of ex­pos­ing a polit­ic­al vul­ner­ab­il­ity while sat­is­fy­ing an ideo­lo­gic­al gripe.

Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law is a tan­tal­iz­ing tar­get and should be part of any GOP can­did­ate’s cam­paign. But among some in the party’s polit­ic­al class, there’s also a nag­ging sense that Obama­care is not quite enough. Wheth­er con­cerned that the party bet big on Obama­care in 2012 with dis­astrous con­sequences or that a single is­sue — however po­tent — won’t per­suade enough voters, they’re warn­ing can­did­ates to do more than just harp on the Af­ford­able Care Act.

The ex­perts’ ad­vice: The party needs to turn its cri­ti­cism of Obama­care in­to a lar­ger cri­tique of Demo­crats, one that not only in­cludes oth­er is­sues but also makes a broad­er point about the fail­ures of big-gov­ern­ment lib­er­al­ism. Most im­port­ant, the GOP needs to show voters it has ideas of its own: With the party brand badly dam­aged, can­did­ates must demon­strate why they de­serve an­oth­er crack at power.

“What we need to do “¦ is to con­vince voters that we have the where­with­al and the ideas to fix is­sues, to put for­ward those solu­tions that can ad­dress those con­cerns,” said Danny Diaz, a Re­pub­lic­an strategist. “That is the core com­pon­ent of the ar­gu­ment and one I think you’re go­ing to see can­did­ates across [the] coun­try do to a great­er de­gree than they have be­fore.”

Some House Re­pub­lic­ans are already try­ing, pub­licly dis­cuss­ing their own pro­pos­als on im­mig­ra­tion and health care. Those amount to baby steps — they’re more guidelines than ac­tu­al le­gis­la­tion — but are part of a con­cer­ted ef­fort from GOP lead­er­ship to define what the party stands for. “It is in­cum­bent upon us, as an al­tern­at­ive party, not just an op­pos­i­tion party, to have ideas that we put for­ward that are groun­ded in mar­ket prin­ciples that will work,” Greg Walden, chair­man of the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee, said last week. “The point is, you need something pos­it­ive to run on.”

Oth­er GOP cam­paigns have already broadened their mes­sages. Mitch Mc­Con­nell, for in­stance, cri­ti­cizes his Demo­crat­ic foe Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes for her po­s­i­tion on coal — an is­sue of par­tic­u­lar res­on­ance in Ken­tucky’s race. And at­tacks on Obama­care can of­fer GOP can­did­ates an open­ing to make a broad­er point about their op­pon­ent. Of­fi­cials at the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee ar­gue that Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors who prom­ised all of their con­stitu­ents would be able to keep their health care plans now have a cred­ib­il­ity prob­lem. The GOP nom­in­ee in the Flor­ida spe­cial elec­tion said in an ad that his op­pon­ent’s sup­port for the law proves she’s just an­oth­er tax-and-spend lib­er­al.

“Just be­cause we’re talk­ing about Obama­care, and that’s a huge is­sue, “¦ that doesn’t mean we’re go­ing to erase dec­ades of how Re­pub­lic­ans run cam­paigns on taxes and spend­ing,” one GOP strategist said.

Still, not every Re­pub­lic­an is wor­ried that the party risks fo­cus­ing too much on the law. The is­sue cuts in­to so many con­cerns for voters — their own health care, the coun­try’s debt, and the eco­nomy — that it’s in­her­ently a broad-spec­trum at­tack. That case was bolstered this week when the Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice pre­dicted the eco­nomy will lose the equi­val­ent of 2.5 mil­lion work­ers by 2024 be­cause few­er people will opt to work due to the health law.

“If James Carville were a Re­pub­lic­an, there’d be a sign hanging in his of­fice that said, ‘It’s Obama­care, stu­pid,’ ” said Glen Bol­ger, a GOP poll­ster. He ar­gued that Re­pub­lic­ans shouldn’t be wor­ried about dwell­ing too much on Obama­care; they should be wor­ried about not talk­ing about it enough.

“Yes, we do need more than just Obama­care,” he said. “But we don’t need a lot more.”

In a close race, however — and there could single-point battles every­where from Alaska to North Car­o­lina — the “more” that Bol­ger is talk­ing about could make the dif­fer­ence between win­ning and los­ing. And it’s why many Re­pub­lic­ans, as thrilled with the polit­ic­al gift of Obama­care as they are, aren’t ready to bet the house on it just yet.

What We're Following See More »
TAKING A LONG VIEW TO SOUTHERN STATES
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Source:
‘PITTING PEOPLE AGAINST EACH OTHER’
Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Source:
THE TIME IS NOW, TED
Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Source:
CHRISTIE, BUSH TRYING TO TAKE HIM DOWN
Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Source:
ARE YOU THE GATEKEEPER?
Sanders: Obama Is a Progressive
1 days ago
THE LATEST

“Do I think President Obama is a progressive? Yeah, I do,” said Bernie Sanders, in response to a direct question in tonight’s debate. “I think they’ve done a great job.” But Hillary Clinton wasn’t content to sit out the latest chapter in the great debate over the definition of progressivism. “In your definition, with you being the gatekeeper of progressivism, I don’t think anyone else fits that definition,” she told Sanders.

×