Shutting Down the Government Over Obamacare Is the New Obamacare

In 2010, Democrats ran from the health care law. This year, it’s Republicans’ turn to distance themselves from their party’s defund-or-shutdown strategy.

Omayra Hernadez holds a sign reading, 'Hey Congress Do Your Job' as she and others gather in front of the office of Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to protest against the partial government shutdown on October 15, 2013 in Doral, Florida. In Washington, DC Congress and the White House continue to work on a budget deal to get the government fully operational.
National Journal
Alex Seitz Wald
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Alex Seitz-Wald
Oct. 16, 2013, 10:05 a.m.

On the cam­paign trail back in 2010, Demo­crats from battle­ground dis­tricts and states twis­ted them­selves in­to rhet­or­ic­al knots to try to dis­tance them­selves from Obama­care, an un­pop­u­lar law that Re­pub­lic­ans would use as a raft to ride in­to the ma­jor­ity in Novem­ber. “It’s ba­sic­ally been ra­dio — and tele­vi­sion — si­lence. Even as Re­pub­lic­ans have at­tacked Demo­crats on the bill, Demo­crats haven’t seen fit to fight back — pre­fer­ring to change the sub­ject,” The Wash­ing­ton Post‘s Chris Cil­lizza wrote at the time.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Cal­if., who barely hung onto his seat that year, voted for the Af­ford­able Care Act, but later said he would have pre­ferred a more “in­cre­ment­al” ap­proach to health care re­form. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., made a full flip-flop, go­ing from “I’d be for it” to “I would not have sup­por­ted that.” Mean­while, Blue Dogs like former Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., touted their vote against the law and hoped it would in­su­late them from party back­lash.

Spoil­er alert: It didn’t work. Demo­crats lost 63 seats and the Blue Dogs were nearly wiped out.

Now, some Re­pub­lic­ans are fa­cing the in­verse prob­lem. While the more ideo­lo­gic­al wing of the party forced a con­front­a­tion over Obama­care that led to the first gov­ern­ment shut­down in 17 years, GOP can­did­ates in more com­pet­it­ive dis­tricts want noth­ing to do with it, even as they feel pres­sured from the right to avoid dis­own­ing the Ted Cruz wing all to­geth­er. So they’re opt­ing for a duck-and-cov­er ap­proach in­stead.

It’s hap­pen­ing in south­ern Ari­zona, where Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate Martha Mc­Sally “wouldn’t take a stand [on the shut­down] des­pite mul­tiple re­quests for her po­s­i­tion from The Re­pub­lic, Ari­zona Daily Star, Green Val­ley News/Sahuar­ita Sun and KVOI-AM (1030),” as the Ari­zona Re­pub­lic re­por­ted this month. “She would say only that the shut­down is ‘a fail­ure of lead­er­ship,’ ” the pa­per’s Re­bekah Sanders ad­ded.

In New Hamp­shire’s 1st Dis­trict, Re­pub­lic­an Dan In­nis, who is primary­ing two-term Rep. Frank Guinta, wouldn’t say if he would have sup­por­ted the GOP’s ef­fort to de­fund Obama­care by link­ing it to a gov­ern­ment shut­down fight. “Obama­care is a dis­astrous, big-gov­ern­ment takeover of the health care sys­tem. While I sup­port re­peal­ing Obama­care, I think we’ve got to be real­ist­ic,” he told the AP.

In up­state New York, Re­pub­lic­an con­gres­sion­al can­did­ate Elise Stefanik used her first policy state­ment of the cam­paign to cri­ti­cize in­cum­bent Demo­crat­ic Rep. Bill Owens for vot­ing against the series of Re­pub­lic­an bills to fund cer­tain parts of the gov­ern­ment while leav­ing the rest closed. “But she re­peatedly would not say wheth­er she would have voted for the same four bills, if she was in Con­gress,” the Glens Falls Post-Star re­por­ted.

And across the coun­try in Cali­for­nia, Re­pub­lic­an chal­lenger Bri­an Nest­ande be­moaned the fisc­al fight in Wash­ing­ton, but “de­clined to say if he would have joined Re­pub­lic­ans who lob­bied House Speak­er John Boehner to take a hard line on Obama­care,” ac­cord­ing to the River­side Press En­ter­prise.

Mean­while, in the biggest race of the year, Vir­gin­ia gubernat­ori­al can­did­ate Ken Cuc­cinelli has been feel­ing the heat. He said he’s “very dis­ap­poin­ted” with “both parties in Con­gress,” adding that a shut­down is “an un­ac­cept­able out­come for Vir­gin­ia.”

There’s no doubt the shut­down has been harm­ful to the GOP brand, with the party’s dis­ap­prov­al rat­ings shoot­ing up 9 points since the shut­down, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post poll, and it seems the party’s can­did­ates are wor­ried that the dam­age will ex­tend bey­ond Re­pub­lic­ans already in Con­gress. It’s still way too early to say how much the shut­down will im­pact the 2014 elec­tion, but it seems it’s already creep­ing in.

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