Home Chris Graham: Inside the game of playing politics with ObamaCare

Chris Graham: Inside the game of playing politics with ObamaCare


Democrat vs. Republican on whiteRepublicans have been thinking since the disastrous rollout of the Healthcare.gov website in October that they’ve had gold in their hands heading into the 2014 midterm election cycle. All they’d have to do is say ObamaCare, ObamaCare, ObamaCare, to the end of the days, and they’d win, and win big. The House was safe, the Senate was in sight, and momentum into 2016 was guaranteed.

Then something funny happened on the way to the forum: seven million people signed up for healthcare coverage under the auspices of ObamaCare.

Now Democrats are thinking that the Br’er Rabbit approach to what the GOP has locked in as its message for the fall elections – don’t throw us into the ObamaCare briar patch, you mean ol’ Republicans – is gold in their hands.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle, or rather in the periphery.

A midterm election cycle, by definition, is not a national election cycle, but rather a series of local and state elections coincidentally held across the country at the same time. Which is to say, there may be national forces at work, for example, conservative billionaires funding campaign commercials to run in local and state markets where the only difference is the name of the candidate being supported or attacked, but these races will largely be decided on local and state factors.

At the House level, the most significant factor to take into account is gerrymandering by the various state legislatures that have created scads of ultrasafe Republican districts and Democratic districts and left us with a relative few swing districts where a real debate over the efficacy of the Affordable Care Act can really take place.

Senate races are decided by state-level forces, so there can be more back and forth on issues like healthcare, but don’t bet on that so much. Because state races are less likely to see extremist candidates with any reasonable shot at winning, we’re likely to see less of the inflammatory rhetoric there except in isolated cases.

In Virginia, for example, where popular Democrat Mark Warner is up for re-election to the Senate seat that he first won in 2008, we’ll probably see some half-hearted efforts by whoever ends up being the Republican nominee (it looks like it will be former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie) to portray Warner as a raving lunatic ObamaCare-loving liberal, but conservative groups are not all that likely to sink any appreciable amount of money into the Warner race simply because he isn’t at all vulnerable in 2014, and there are many more attractive races for their money to go into.

Warner, being Warner, would seem to be able to deflect those criticisms that would come by simply pointing to that number: seven million! Warner has proven over the years to be adept at deflecting off-base critics (see 2004 budget impasse), and the healthcare issue is about as off-base as you can get, again, unless you’re a staunch conservative House candidate running in a bright red House district, in which case, by all means, go with it.

But in the end, it’s doubtful that healthcare will be a key issue in deciding the midterms for either side. Really, the fate of the midterms was already decided in 2010 and 2011 when the various state legislatures redistricted according to the Census, and left us with an electoral map that gives us a Republican House in a country that on the aggregate cast more votes for House Democratic candidates.

Democrats will be fighting uphill battles in the House until they figure out that winning elections at the state legislative level is the important first step to achieving success in Washington. The fight, such as it is, over ObamaCare, which is now as much the law of the land as Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, is a clever distraction from Republicans, and smart on them for continuing to puff their chests about ObamaCare when even they know that particular fight is lost.



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