- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Republican Senate challenger Leah Vukmir must close a sizable deficit in her bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, yet Republicans think they have found the incumbent’s kryptonite — comparing her to Sen. Bernard Sanders.

Ms. Vukmir emerged the nominee from Tuesday’s primary and wasted no time attacking Ms. Baldwin’s “far left” support for Mr. Sanders’ agenda.

“She’s put America last, supporting the dangerous Iran deal, standing with extremist socialists like Bernie Sanders who support government-run health care,” Ms. Vukmir said after winning 54 percent of the vote over chief opponent Kevin Nicholson.

Ms. Baldwin makes no bones about her liberal credentials. While most Democrats running for re-election in states President Trump carried in 2016 have put distance between themselves and Sanders-backed ideas, Ms. Baldwin says universal health care is a “statement of belief” for her, after she battled a serious childhood illness.

On the campaign trail, she firmly defends Obamacare and calls for incremental steps to expand coverage, such as allowing people to buy into the federal-state Medicaid program.

Yet the GOP is putting a laser-like focus on her decision to back a single-payer bill, arguing it provides a clear contrast between the candidates that will help Ms. Vukmir, a state senator, pull off an upset.

“On one hand, you have Tammy Baldwin who backs every radical, multi-trillion-dollar idea the far-left extremists like Bernie Sanders have put forward, and who wants to expand government’s reach into every corner of our lives,” said Calvin Moore, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “And on the other hand, you have Leah Vukmir who has worked hard to get government out of the way and helped deliver the common-sense reforms that have put Wisconsin’s economy back on track.”

Ms. Baldwin goes into the showdown with a solid lead in the polls. An Emerson College survey from July 30, before the primary, put her 14 points ahead of Ms. Vukmir in a theoretical matchup.

Democrats also say the issues at the top of voters’ minds this year favor Ms. Baldwin, particularly health care, with the GOP reeling from having tried, and failed, to repeal Obamacare.

Democrats say, and voters increasingly agree, that the GOP is to blame for the law’s soaring premiums and lingering problems.

Andy Slavitt, who oversaw public insurance programs under President Obama, says Democrats have a good argument for blaming the GOP.

“The topic is the Republican White House, with a majority Congress, wants to repeal the [Affordable Care Act] and pre-existing condition provisions,” he said. “That’s what this election is about in the eye of the public.”

He said attempts to focus on Ms. Baldwin’s support for government-run health care is a distraction.

Republicans, though, say if Democrats win control of the Senate, they would pursue government-sponsored universal care as a fix to Obamacare.

And that, the GOP argues, would result in big tax increases, an unpopular talking point in any campaign.

A memo from the Vukmir campaign cites research that the kind of health system favored by Mr. Sanders, a Vermont independent, and backed by Ms. Baldwin would cost $32 trillion over the first 10 years.

Ms. Baldwin has said tax increases would be offset for average Americans who are no longer paying massive premiums each month to maintain health coverage.

Liberal activists are watching the race as an important bellwether.

“Tammy Baldwin isn’t taking a risk by supporting Medicare for All, she’s putting forward an actual solution to the challenges of the current health care system,” said Neil Stroka, spokesman for Democracy for America, a liberal political action committee that endorsed her. “And Republicans seem to be out of any relevant ideas. Sad!”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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