A New Front in Obamacare Politics: Red-on-Red Warfare

Competition is heating up in Georgia’s Republican primary fight over who can hate Obamacare more.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 14: House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee member Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) (C) listens to testimony during a hearing about the the Obama Administration's roll in the Solyndra loan guarantee at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. Much of the first part of the hearing was spent on parliamentary tactics over whether to release documents from the Department of Energy and the Treasury about concerns over the legality of the Solyndra loans.
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Kevin Brennan
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Kevin Brennan
Nov. 22, 2013, midnight

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.

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