Obamacare losing its punch as a political tool for Republicans

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Obamacare appears to be losing its effectiveness as a political tool against Democrats, as Republicans looking to unseat the North Carolina U.S. Senate incumbent cut the ads citing the Affordable Care Act by half.

The same is happening in Arkansas and Louisiana, one indication that Republicans have backed off the strategy of criticizing Democrats over Obamacare, especially since many Americans are seeing benefits from the law.

“The Republican Party is realizing you can’t really hang your hat on it,” said North Carolina State University political science professor Andrew Taylor in an interview with Bloomberg. “It just isn’t the kind of issue it was.”

Previously, Republican hoped anti-Obamacare sentiment would boost turnout as the GOP seeks a majority in the U.S. Senate, just as it did in 2010 for the House. However, these are the first midterm elections since full implementation of the law.

Republicans are now looking for a new formula to win, and have little time to do so. Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster who advised U.S. Senate candidates such as Marco Rubio, said the party is reframing ads to tie the health law to the economy and jobs, two of the top concerns for many Americans.

“Obamacare will not be the most important issue,” said Ayres, and Republicans must “target people very directly” with the messages. Ayers recently co-wrote a memo detailing outside spending for groups such as American Action Network and Crossroads GPS. For research, Ayres analyzed 57 talking points for attack.

Another round of ads featuring health care may drop next month, Ayers added after premium increases take effect once state regulators finish negotiating with insurers on rates for 2015.

“Obamacare remains of serious concern,” the memo pointed out, “garnering significant opposition among Republicans and widespread criticism among independents, who are suspicious of the law’s Washington-driven approach.”

Nevertheless, the GOP experience across the country is proving that Republicans can’t rely on the issue to provoke independent voters, who they need to oust Democrats in races in Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska. Moreover, ads against Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina accentuate the limits of the health-care law as a political issue.

Republicans claim Hagan cast the deciding vote when the law passed in 2010 and became President Barack Obama’s signature legislative initiative. Yet after more than $4 million in negative ads blasting Obamacare this year, recent polling has Hagan in a statistical tie with Thom Tillis, her Republican challenger.

During April, anti-Obamacare ads eclipsed all other spots in North Carolina, accounting for 3,061, or 54 percent, of the 5,704 top five North Carolina issue ads, says Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.

As of July, the numbers reversed, with only 971 anti-Obamacare ads, 27 percent of the top issue ads. Budget, government spending, jobs and unemployment accounted for 72 percent, or 2,608, of issue ads, CMAG reports.

“It is a recognition that there’s more going on in this state and also nationally than just frustration over Obamacare,” Jordan Shaw, Tillis’s campaign manager told Bloomberg. “We have never had an approach to make this campaign all about the Affordable Care Act. You can’t have a conversation about Obamacare without talking about its impact on the economy.”

“Repeal and replace” the old Republican mantra for Obamacare, is being challenged by a policy void, according to Senate analyst Jennifer Duffy for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “You can’t really repeal it without creating a mess,” she said, “and the problem is they’re not entirely sure what to replace it with.”

Another indication of GOP efforts in a broader context happened last month when the House voted to sue President Obama over implementation. House Republicans claim the president exceeded his constitutional powers when he delayed the measure’s central requirements without a Congressional vote.

 

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.