Republican lawmakers in the U.S. House so botched the politics of the government shutdown that it was almost a given the 2014 election would be a disaster for them.
Not so much anymore.
Enter the Affordable Care Act - Obamacare - and the continuing problems people are having getting into the website to sign up and shop around for healthcare coverage options.
If Democrats had planned to run against Republicans on the government shutdown issue, as they will, Republicans can just as easily run on the botched roll-out of the healthcare law, as they surely will.
They basically cancel each other out as defining issues, making them the potential great equalizers in the 2014 mid-term election.
You can see it already in the tone of the Democrat incumbents here in the Granite State, particularly in Jeanne Shaheen, who is running for re-election to keep her seat in the U.S. Senate.
She scored political points by being one of the bipartisan group of 14 senators -- the only grown-ups in the room down there in D.C., it seems - to negotiate a settlement to the 16-day government shutdown earlier this month. The group also negotiated at the 11th hour a deal to raise the debt ceiling, keeping the nation from going into default with its creditors.
It is something she can run on.
But with the persistent problems navigating the Affordable Care Act site, Shaheen was the first Democrat to distance herself from the Democratic pack by calling on the Obama Administration to extend the deadline on healthcare sign-up until the website problems are fixed.
“As you continue to fix problems with the website and the enrollment process, it is critical that the Administration be open to modifications that provide greater flexibility for the American people seeking to access health insurance – extending the open enrollment period and clarification on the enforcement and administration of the individual responsibility penalty would be a great start,” Shaheen wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama on Oct. 22.
Nine other Democratic senators, many running for re-election themselves, have joined Shaheen in a letter they sent to the president urging the extension.
This way Obamacare becomes something Shaheen can also run on but not necessarily run away from.
Shaheen isn’t any less supportive of the overall intent of the law, but the website issues were becoming too big a political issue for Democrats to ignore, just as the government shutdown was too big an issue for Republican leadership to ignore.
The government shutdown became an issue that was too big to ignore. That’s why Speaker John Boehner let the negotiated bill come to the House floor for a vote even though it didn’t have majority support within his caucus. With other bills, he has refused to let them come to a vote unless there was that majority either for or against..
How this will all play in New Hampshire remains to be seen. Polls indicate that Shaheen remains popular among voters, as does Democrat Carol Shea-Porter, who is running for re-election in the 1st Congressional District. The same polls indicate some vulnerability for Democrat Ann Kuster, the incumbent in the 2nd CD.
For her part, Shea-Porter repeatedly referred to the shutdown as “the Republican shutdown” and she’s been a defender of the health care law, though admitting that the legislation would probably need some tweaking here and there.
Will it be a two-issue election? No, but recent events basically neutralize two of the biggest issues. You can be equally mad at Republicans and Democrats for the government shutdown and the Affordable Care Act. Makes you wish there was a viable third party, doesn’t it?
Paul Briand is an editor with the Live Free or Die Alliance, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that encourages the discussion and analysis of New Hampshire politics and policies.