President Obama completed an ambitious fundraising schedule for Democrats in November, but many of the congressional candidates he is trying to help are finding their election prospects next year imperiled by the president’s faulty health care law.
Several polls in the past week have shown congressional Republicans pulling even or slightly ahead of Democrats in generic balloting for the midterm elections, a swing of at least 10 percentage points in less than a month. Pollsters attribute the seismic shift to the series of glaring flaws in Obamacare, most of which came to the public’s attention after the program’s rollout Oct. 1.
Among the Democrats hurt by Obamacare woes are Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, polling at 41 percent against Republican opponents; Sen. Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas, polling at 33 percent, a drop of 18 points in a year; Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, now tied in a race that looked like his to win; and Sen. Kay R. Hagan of North Carolina, whose disapproval rating has soared in recent months.
While Mr. Obama’s credibility has suffered from his broken pledge on health care that “if you like your plan, you can keep it,” Republican pollster David Winston said the level of danger for Democratic candidates “depends on how much they were using that same line.”
The midterm prospects for candidates of the president’s party can be affected by his popularity, and Mr. Obama’s job approval rating has been dropping steadily. Mr. Winston likened Mr. Obama’s predicament to that of President George H.W. Bush, who broke his “read my lips” promise that he wouldn’t raise taxes.
“This president now will have that same problem,” Mr. Winston said. “Once you’ve broken a core promise like that, it’s hard to get that back.”
Republicans say they will campaign aggressively on Obamacare and will remind voters about Democrats who supported the initiative. The House Republicans’ campaign arm has launched an email blitz against 46 Democratic House candidates titled “So you’re running on Obamacare.”
“Democrats have repeatedly said they’re looking forward to running on the disaster that is Obamacare in 2014,” said Andrea Bozek, spokeswoman of the National Republican Campaign Committee. “If Alex Sink [a Democratic candidate in Florida] thinks that canceled plans and rising premiums are something to be proud of, then we look forward to seeing her on the campaign trail.”
Republicans are being aided by groups such as Americans for Prosperity, funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, which is spending $4 million on TV ads aimed at congressional Democrats who are tied to Obamacare.
Republican strategist Karl Rove has said Obamacare is likely to be a “bigger, more obvious and equally deadly issue” for Democrats next year than it was in 2010, when Republicans took back the House amid widespread anger over passage of the legislation.
Democrats are fighting back by reminding voters about the consequences of repealing the law and revoking established benefits as Republicans have proposed.
The House Democrats’ campaign arm has sent an email citing a government report showing that seniors have saved an average of $1,200 per person on prescription drug costs under Obamacare, and targeting Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo, New Jersey Republican, for voting to repeal the law.
“This new analysis is another painful reminder that Congressman LoBiondo would raise prescription drug costs for New Jersey seniors because he is obsessed with repeal,” said Emily Bittner of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Seniors shouldn’t have to go back to choosing between buying food or medicine, but that’s exactly what Congressman LoBiondo’s obsessive repeal effort would force them to do.”
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida said she believes voters will have largely forgotten about Obamacare’s problems by the midterm elections as glitches are resolved and other issues take priority.
Obama pollster Joel Benenson has suggested to congressional Democrats that the party will deflect the issue of Obamacare by trying to focus instead on the economy. It could be a narrow hole for candidates to thread because increases in many families’ health care premiums are affecting their household budgets.
“Our guiding light needs to be our focus on creating a more secure economy for hard-working American families, with smart investments now and for the next generation,” Mr. Benenson said. “Even amid a cascade of news cycles focused on the Affordable Care Act, Syria, the government shutdown and the NSA, voters’ primary focus has never shifted from their economic well-being and financial security.”
He added, “We need to align Democrats with a future-oriented agenda that focuses on the issues that matter to families across the country — strengthening the economy, creating jobs, investing in education, promoting a living wage — and not getting caught up in inside-the-Beltway political dramas that have little bearing on their immediate well-being.”
Although some Republicans say they can make Obamacare the top campaign issue, Mr. Winston has said the party needs to offer an alternative for improving the health care system.
House Republicans have offered several bills designed to make health insurance more affordable, most of them by using the tax code to put more money into pockets with the requirement that it be spent on health care.
A proposal from the conservative Republican Study Committee with 100 co-sponsors, would give a $7,500 deduction to individuals and a $20,000 deduction to families.
A proposal by Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican, offers a maximum tax credit of $5,000 for families making up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $47,000 a year.