- The Washington Times - Friday, April 9, 2010

FORT COLLINS, Colo. | First-term Democratic Rep. Betsy Markey is convinced that once people learn what’s in President Obama’s new health care overhaul law, they’ll support it.

But that is not a message she was eager to carry in person to her constituents in Republican-leaning eastern Colorado. During Congress’ two-week Easter break, she reserved any discussion of health care reform for conference calls, an Op-Ed piece and an appearance at a small-town Rotary Club - all small-bore outreach.

After the raucous, angry town halls of last summer, Mrs. Markey steered clear of massive gatherings.

She was not alone. Tough votes for Mr. Obama’s health care plan have further complicated the re-election prospects of dozens of already vulnerable freshman and sophomore Democrats. There’s even a chance the party could lose control of one or both houses of Congress in the midterm elections.

Democrats and a few Republicans reported receiving threats to themselves and their families in the days after the vote. The FBI arrested a California man Wednesday for reportedly making threatening phone calls to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. On Tuesday, a Washington state man was arrested and charged with threatening to kill Democratic Sen. Patty Murray.

In districts and states where the overhaul was most controversial, town-hall meetings have been replaced with tightly controlled “business roundtables” and other less confrontational gatherings with voters.

In Nevada, first-term Democratic Rep. Dina Titus defended her vote for the health care bill in a newspaper piece she co-wrote and in a meeting with female doctors. Facing a vigorous GOP challenge from a Republican physician, she acknowledged treading carefully.

“It’s more of a teaching tour than a selling tour,” she said of her recent appearances.

Republicans dismiss the notion that voters opposed to the new law can be sold on it. They equate the overhaul to a “government takeover” of health care and blame it on one-party arrogance. The theme is central to House Republicans’ plan to cast the GOP as the party that will listen to what voters want, not pass bills the people oppose.

As lawmakers prepared to wrap up their recess and return to Washington, Republicans released a campaign spot featuring feet in flip-flops and criticizing House Democrats who had “flip-flopped” - voting against the health care overhaul bill last fall but then voting for it on final passage last month.

Like Mrs. Markey, Mrs. Titus voted for the health care overhaul, but hasn’t made an in-person appearance before a large crowd on the topic since it was signed into law.

Second-term Rep. Harry E. Mitchell, Arizona Democrat, has done the same, though health care did become the main topic of a bipartisanship forum he held last week in Tempe with a Republican colleague. Mr. Mitchell defended his vote to an audience of more than 200 people.

A Republican seeking to unseat Mr. Mitchell suggested the congressman is avoiding the issue.

“They’re just hunkering down and hoping it blows over, that people will move on to a new subject. But I don’t know if it’s working,” said Republican David Schweikert of Scottsdale, Ariz., who unsuccessfully ran against Mr. Mitchell in 2008 and is seeking a rematch.

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