In mid-October, at the height of the government shutdown, House Democrats celebrated the decision of Omaha politician Pete Festersen to restart his candidacy against Republican Rep. Lee Terry—a move, they said, that showed the toll the weeks-long imbroglio had taken on Republicans. Festersen, who earlier has opted out of a campaign, cited the shutdown as a primary reason he was reentering the race.
As it happens, what goes around comes around.
Festersen said Monday that, for the second time, he was no longer running for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District seat. Although he cited family obligations, Republicans immediately jumped on the news as evidence that political fortunes had once again changed—this time thanks to the health care law’s disastrous rollout.
“This is the biggest and most humiliating recruitment fail of the year for House Democrats, and they don’t have anyone to blame but themselves,” said Andrea Bozek, a National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman. “Their continued commitment to Obamacare is not only costing them votes, it is now costing them their star candidates.”
The Affordable Care Act, plagued by malfunctioning websites and people losing their health care coverage, has been a major political problem for Democrats since the site debuted Oct. 1—so much so that the party’s once prodigious lead in the generic-ballot matchup has been reversed in a matter of months, as Charlie Cook observed last week.
Festersen’s decision to drop out doesn’t tangibly affect House Democrats’ efforts next year much. It’s only one seat among 435, and they can still find another candidate to take his place. Other Democratic recruits continue to line up to run in other battleground districts.
But national Democrats had touted the City Council member’s original reversal as a sign they had capitalized on the current political environment to make a lasting difference in House campaigns. Festersen’s decision Monday is the most tangible manifestation yet that Republicans are now doing the same.
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Evan McMullin, the independent conservative candidate who may win his home state of Utah, is quietly planning to turn his candidacy into a broader movement for principled conservatism. He tells BuzzFeed he's "skeptical" that the Republican party can reform itself "within a generation" and that the party's internal "disease" can't be cured via "the existing infrastructure.” The ex-CIA employee and Capitol Hill staffer says, “I have seen and worked with a lot of very courageous people in my time [but] I have seen a remarkable display of cowardice over the last couple of months in our leaders.” McMullin's team has assembled organizations in the 11 states where he's on the ballot, and adviser Rick Wilson says "there’s actually a very vibrant market for our message in the urban northeast and in parts of the south."
One of the main reasons for the recent Obamacare premium hikes is that many potential enrollees have simply decided to pay the tax penalty for remaining uninsured, rather than pay for insurance. More than 8 million people paid the penalty in 2014, and preliminary numbers for 2015 suggest that the number approaches 6 million. "For the young and healthy who are badly needed to make the exchanges work, it is sometimes cheaper to pay the Internal Revenue Service than an insurance company charging large premiums, with huge deductibles."
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that "there was “precedent” for a Supreme Court with fewer than nine justices—appearing to suggest that the blockade on nominee Merrick Garland could last past the election." Speaking to reporters in Colorado, Cruz said: "I would note, just recently, that Justice Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have.”