It’s a dilemma all Democratic candidates will face this election season. Should they remain good soldiers behind their leader in the White House, oppose his policies or ignore him and his policies altogether? Memorial Day is the traditional kick start point for candidates and now comes that moment of truth.
Smack dab in the middle of this thought process is the key to a candidate’s political stance – Obamacare. It’s easy for the president to have remarked his party “shouldn't apologize or go on the defensive about the Affordable Care Act.” It’s easy for him to say exactly that as a lame duck president with no future campaigning to worry about.
Two examples of this political dilemma are Michelle Nunn in Georgia and Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky. Both women are newcomers running as Democrats for the U.S. Senate.
They both have the luxury of no voting record on the Affordable Care Act and won’t say how they would have voted. Both have taken the very political road of advocating certain parts of the law, while remaining quiet about most of it.
It’s the same story throughout the senate races. The fact is nobody wants to say it was a good idea because more than half the electorate hates it. Pure and simple.
From Alaska where a statewide Democratic ad endorses portions of the law to Montana where Sen. John Walsh, appointed to office in February and now running for a full term, reminds voters that he was nowhere near Congress in 2010. If you are lucky enough to have voted for an overhaul four years ago, you’re ahead of the game.
For the president, it’s his signature legislation and his legacy, like it or not. He says, "There is a strong, good, right story to tell" about the law. Maybe there is, but most candidates do not think the time to tell it is now when they are running for their lives.
One thing is certain among Democrats, in the 2014 midterm elections, no outright endorsement of Obamacare is anywhere to be seen, period. Instead, it's a more nuanced one.
Michelle Nunn, the daughter of Sam Nunn, a highly respected former Georgia Democratic Senator, says "I believe we need to move forward and build on what's working, and fix the things that are not." That comes close to saying, “I feel very strongly both ways.” She faces the winner of the Republican runoff July 22 in November.
Alison Grimes, running against Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has twice refused to give her opinion on Obamacare. “I, when we are in the United States Senate, will work to fix the Affordable Care Act," she said. Now that’s a real political answer.
Montana Democratic Senator Walsh was recently quoted saying, "I was preparing soldiers and airmen to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. So I did not vote on the Affordable Care Act, just want to make that clear." That’s a dodge with patriotic overtones. He spent 33 years in the Montana National Guard.
It is no secret to anyone with a pulse that November will be a Republican year. All the majority of Democratic candidates can do is distance themselves from the faltering leader in the White House and hope the dreaded prediction of a landslide doesn’t wash over their careers.
The GOP needs six Senate seats to reclaim the majority. Democrats must defend seven seats, five incumbents, counting Montana, in states Obama lost in 2012 and where he remains broadly unpopular. That’s a big mountain to climb for any candidate.
But you throw in a slow economy, high unemployment and unpopular legislation like Obamacare and it spells “train wreck” as former co-author of the Obamacare legislation and Senator from Montana, Max Baucus, called it. He retired early and was quickly appointed Ambassador to China by President Obama. Anyone heard from him lately?
Nunn and Grimes must win in states that provide Obama lower ratings than his national ones. Meanwhile, to make things worse for Democrats, the GOP is heavily favored to maintain its House majority.
The Republican hit list includes Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas for being "the deciding vote for Obamacare." Three out of four are incumbents.
Landrieu, Hagan and Nunn have tried without much success to blame Republicans for not expanding Medicaid under the law. But that isn’t quite as effective as the GOP ads showing average Americans losing their healthcare insurance and their doctor because of Obamacare.
There are five months to go in the midterm elections. Either the Democrats need a political miracle or the Republicans can do their usual best to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” Don’t underestimate that.
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