When Sen. Bernard Sanders hits the campaign trail in Nevada Thursday, he’ll be standing closer to the Democrat he’s endorsing than she is to his signature plan.
Mr. Sanders is traveling the country pushing his “Medicare for All” idea of government-sponsored health care. But Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is looking to unseat Nevada’s incumbent Republican Sen. Dean Heller, would like something a bit less, well, socialist.
At a debate last week Ms. Rosen declined to back Mr. Sanders’ best-known issue, instead offering smaller changes to the health care system, such as a cap on prescription costs.
Ms. Rosen’s failure to stand with Mr. Sanders is of a piece with the delicate dance many Democrats are doing on the issue in tight Senate battleground races across the land.
Under the bill Mr. Sanders has written, “Medicare for All” would outlaw private insurance or employer-provided plans and turn to the government to provide health coverage.
While long a rallying cry for the left wing of the Democratic Party, the “single payer” system turns out to be popular with voters more broadly, according to polls taken in August and again this month. The latest, by Hill.TV and HarrisX, found even 52 percent of Republicans in favor.
But polls also indicate support drops when people learn more details about the “Medicare for all” currently proposed and the possibly gargantuan tax hikes that would be needed to pay for it.
And while roughly half of the Democratic House candidates this midterm are on board, the way Democratic candidates in hotly contested Senate races avoid it on the campaign trail suggests it’s not a political winner.
For example, when Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke campaigns now in his senate race he talks a lot about health care – he just doesn’t get specific.
“A single-payer Medicare-for-all program is the best way to ensure all Americans get the health care they need,” he wrote on Facebook in June 2017.
His campaign did not respond Wednesday to questions about his stance.
The single-payer plan envisioned by Mr. Sanders and his acolytes would cost more than $32 trillion over the next 10 years, according to a study last summer by libertarian economists at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. More recently, an analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisors found that without enormous tax increases, all federal programs would have to be slashed in half to pay for it.
In their second debate, incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz hammered this point, noting Mr. O’Rourke wanted genuine socialized medicine and the breathtaking price tag that goes with it.
Mr. O’Rourke responded that by raising the corporate tax rate back toward what it was before President Trump’s tax reform passed, a lot of the necessary money could be raised.
Mr. Cruz scoffed at the claim, and referenced the $30 trillion estimate.
In Arizona, Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, locked in a tight race with Republican Martha McSally, has labored to distance herself from left-wing positions and speeches she has given in the past, and she says now she does not support “Medicare for all,” preferring instead to infuse Obamacare with more cash.
The GOP leadership in the Senate forced a test vote last year on a single-payer plan in order to see who would be bold enough to support it.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin Democrat and a sponsor of Mr. Sanders’ plan, voted for it. But Democratic Sens. Jon Tester in Montana, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly in Indiana all voted against the motion.
Some Democratic gubernatorial candidates are less reticent.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, ahead in polls in his bid for governor in Florida, backs single-payer, as does California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who’s poised to become governor of the country’s largest state. And in Maryland, Ben Jealous is far behind GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, but is running on a liberal platform of Medicare for All and tuition-free college.
Mr. Gillum’s stance in Florida has presented incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson with something of a quandary. Mr. Nelson acknowledges he’s grateful for the enthusiasm Mr. Gillum, a young African-American candidate, has brought to the Democratic ticket but has thus far shied away from endorsing the same left-wing positions such as Medicare for all.
“I’ve got enough trouble just trying to save Obamacare,” Mr. Nelson said this month in a meeting with the editorial board of The Tampa Bay Times.