Attack ads hit moderates on health reform

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Democrats beware! If you’re not fully supporting President Obama’s health care overhaul, liberal advocacy groups have you in their sights.

As the August congressional recess looms and the final details of the health care plan take shape, the groups have unleashed a series of hard-hitting attack ads against Democrats while mostly ignoring Republicans.

Change Congress is raising money to go after Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, using one of her own constituents to ask, “Will Landrieu sell out Louisiana?”

“Our pressure campaign targeting Landrieu has great momentum, but so far, her public position has not moved. So we have a choice: Walk away from the fight or escalate the pressure? For us, the choice is easy,” the group told supporters.

The new ad stars Karen Gadbois, an uninsured Louisiana resident and breast-cancer survivor who says a public option would save her family from a medical emergency. She’s well-known in the community for exposing post-Hurricane Katrina corruption.

“For me, this issue is personal. So when I see Mary Landrieu take $1.6 million from health and insurance companies and then oppose the public option for my daughter and me, I have to ask: Whose side are you on?” she says, looking straight into the camera with scenes of vacant New Orleans homes behind her on the screen.

The most contentious sticking point concerns the public option Mr. Obama says he wants included in the plan — which has a more than $600 billion price tag.

Republicans call a public option a deal breaker, while many conservative Democrats are backing away from the idea — favored by liberals — for fear it would harm private insurance companies.

Landrieu spokesman Aaron Saunders declined to comment on the ads but said his boss is reviewing all the proposals on the table. Mr. Saunders said Ms. Landrieu is open to compromise but “supports a predominantly private system that features a federal backup plan that serves as a safety net” and added that she “does not believe that health care reform starts with a public option.”

He also noted that since the ads have started, the majority of calls to her office have been in opposition to a public option, not in favor of one.

Advocacy groups such as MoveOn.org and Democracy for America are going after those Democrats, and Mr. Obama is stuck in the middle.

When asked by The Washington Times about the ads last week, White House Press Secretary Robert L. Gibbs said the president doesn’t have “much to say” about the groups’ efforts.

A few days later, the White House was forced to intervene, and Mr. Obama reportedly told members of Congress on a conference call that the ads aren’t helpful.

“The president had the right tone, telling people this has to be more about the bigger challenge of continuing to make the case for why health care reform is needed,” said Sen. Mark Warner, a freshman Democrat from Virginia.

Mr. Warner told The Times he has heard from liberal groups that strongly want a public option and opponents who call that government-run health care, though he hasn’t been targeted specifically yet because he hasn’t staked out a firm position on that element of the proposal.

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About the Author

Christina Bellantoni

Christina Bellantoni is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times in Washington, D.C., a post she took after covering the 2008 Democratic presidential campaigns. She has been with The Times since 2003, covering state and Congressional politics before moving to national political beat for the 2008 campaign. Bellantoni, a San Jose native, graduated from UC Berkeley with ...

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