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Obamacare's Electoral Effect

Supporting Obama's health care plan has hurt Democrats.

12:00 AM, Sep 21, 2010 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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A recent New York Times/CBS News poll shows, among other things, that more than twice as many Americans “strongly disapprove” of Obamacare (34 percent) as “strongly approve” of it (15 percent).  Moreover, the poll shows that the vast majority — 82 percent — of those who disapprove of Obamacare (whether strongly or otherwise) want it to be repealed. In response to the poll, Politico opines that the “big takeaway…is just how much health reform has fallen off the radar as a 2010 campaign issue, not offering much of clear benefit to either party.”  Wow.

Obamacare's Electoral Effect

Barack Obama listens to a question from a guests attending the Health Care Summit.

Perhaps someone should ask the candidates who are running.  Not only are Democrats now funding anti-Obamacare ads at more than three times the clip of pro-Obamacare ads — as Politico itself has reported — but evidence suggests that Democrats who voted for the overhaul are taking a beating, while anti-Obamacare Democrats are doing comparatively well.

Back in January, Andy Wickersham and I argued that swing-state congressional Democrats who voted for Obamacare in March would likely face an electoral reckoning in the fall. In “A Switch in Time to Save Nine,” we highlighted nine Democratic representatives who voted for Obamacare in the first House vote. We argued that if they failed to switch their votes to “no” in the final House vote, they’d likely go down with the Obamacare ship.  

Only one of these nine, Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio), took our advice; Space voted against Obamacare the second time around. He’s now running for reelection against Republican Bob Gibbs, in a race in which no public polls have yet been published. The National Republican Campaign Committee, however, released an internal poll last month showing the race to be a tie. CQ Politics reports that a spokesman for the Space campaign “questioned the validity of the GOP poll,” and the spokesman strongly implied that Space was ahead in internal Democratic polling. Whether Space is ahead or tied, neither side is claiming he's behind. (If Gibbs were to push Space to clarify whether he's for repeal, this might well change.)

And the eight Democrats who didn’t switch?  One of them, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) — who, according to the Washington Post, “hadn't faced a serious primary fight in more than a decade and was seen in some circles as unbeatable, given that the state's 1st Congressional District seat had been in his family since 1968” (his father had held it for 14 years) — failed even to advance to the final round. He lost in the primary to Democratic challenger Mike Oliverio, a pro-life candidate who, as Fox News reported, “told voters that if they sent him to Washington, he wouldn’t vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.”  (A bit cheekily, Fox added, “And if this trend continues, Oliverio might not have to.”)  The vote wasn’t close: By a 12-point margin (56 to 44 percent), Mollohan was turned out after 28 years in Congress and 13 successful reelection campaigns.

Another of the Democrats who didn’t switch, Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.), has decided to run for the seat that fellow-Democrat Evan Bayh is vacating (after his own unpopular vote for Obamacare). According to Rasmussen, Ellsworth is currently trailing Republican Dan Coats by 16 percentage points (50 to 34 percent).  In the seven polls taken across the past six months (by Rasmussen or otherwise), Ellsworth’s best result has been a 14-point deficit.

The remaining six Democrats in question are each seeking reelection to their current seats.  In the race between Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) and Republican challenger Todd Young, no public polls have yet been released. But in each of the other five races, polling is available. In the most recent poll published by Real Clear Politics for each race, Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.) is trailing Republican challenger Scott Tipton by 8 points (51 to 43 percent), Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) is trailing Republican challenger Rick Berg by 9 points (53 to 44 percent), Rep. Kathleen Dahlkemper (D-Pa.) is trailing Republican challenger Mike Kelly by 14 points (52 to 38 percent), Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.) is trailing Republican challenger Tom Marino by 15 points (52 to 37 percent), and Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) is trailing Republican challenger Robert Hurt by 26 points (61 to 35).  

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