Thursday, October 28, 2010

What ails the flailing and failing Democrats? Obamacare

Election Day isn’t until Tuesday, but the postgame spin has already begun. Conventional wisdom is blaming Democrats’ expected poor performance on the lousy economy. Democrats blame the influx of outside money. And Republicans are thanking Nancy Pelosi.

But the reality that Democrats hate to discuss – and even some Republicans have been hesitant to fully embrace – is that the party’s signature health care law is what’s turning a bad election year into a disaster of potential history-making proportions.

It was the debate over health care that propelled now-Sen. Scott Brown’s unlikely special election victory in Massachusetts back in January. And it’s the growing unpopularity of the new law that’s fueling Republican energy, turning off independents and jeopardizing the prospects of dozens of Democrats who looked like locks for reelection just a year ago.

There’s no doubt that the health care bill is unpopular. A new Battleground Poll shows 54 percent opposed to it, 40 percent strongly. This weeks' Society for Human Resource Management/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, conducted with the Pew Research Center, showed voters favor repealing the law by a 10-point margin, 51 to 41 percent. Republicans have been hammering Democrats across the country over their votes for the legislation, even in solidly Democratic states and districts. Of the many Democratic lawmakers in trouble, only a brave and principled few, such as Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., and Rep. Scott Murphy, D-N.Y., have even mentioned their support for the bill – and the latest polls have both trailing in their reelection bids.

By contrast, Democrats who opposed the bill are in surprisingly decent shape, given the lousy political environment. Many of the anti-health care Democrats hail from Southern districts that John McCain comfortably carried in 2008. And while many of them still face tough races, members like Bobby Bright of Alabama, Travis Childers of Mississippi, Ike Skelton of Missouri, and Larry Kissell of North Carolina find themselves with a fighting chance despite the deeply conservative nature of their districts.

Outside the South, Rep. Michael Arcuri, D-N.Y., looked like toast after he was one of the few Democrats who flipped his vote to oppose the health care bill, against the advice of Democratic strategists. Now he finds himself with a chance to survive in a neck-and-neck race, with him touting a message of independence from Democratic leaders – in a district that Obama carried.

The picture is not so bright for the Democrats who went along with the White House. Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., a founding member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs, never faced a close race in his 14-year congressional career. But after he flipped his position from opposing to supporting the president’s health care bill – one of eight Democrats to do so - he barely survived his own primary. Now, his prospects for reelection are dim.

Of the eight who flipped their votes to support the bill, two announced their retirement (Bart Gordon and Brian Baird) and five others are in tough races. The other is Dennis Kucinich, who initially opposed the bill because it didn’t have a public option.

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