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Democratic candidates still tread lightly on Obamacare, despite Supreme Court’s decision

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The Supreme Court gave President Obama’s health-care law its constitutional seal of approval Thursday.

When it comes to their political seal of approval, Democratic House and Senate candidates weren’t so kind.

Despite the law being upheld, Democrats with tough races ahead of them continue to tread lightly around a law that remains broadly unpopular nationwide — including among key independent voters.

Most of these Democrats had the same message: The law is an important first step that nonetheless has problems that need to be mended.

“Today’s ruling doesn’t mean this responsible, constitutional law can’t be improved,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in a statement. “But it is an important step forward in the fight to fix a broken system and hold big insurance companies accountable to Montana families.”

Sen. Jon Tester works on his farm in Big Sandy, Mont., in August 2006. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Former Democratic National Committee chairman and Virginia Senate candidate Tim Kaine (D) echoed Tester’s “important step” verbiage: “The Affordable Care Act is an important first step in curbing discriminatory insurance company practices and increasing access to health care, but more needs to be done to bring down costs.”

Manan Trivedi (D), who is challenging Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) for the second straight cycle in a swing district near Philadelphia, said blandly that the decision “will significantly impact the health and care of all Americans.”

“And in the end, if we are going to truly make the Affordable Care Act affordable, we must now begin serious discussions on how to reign in health-care costs,” said Trivedi, a physician.

In case anyone thought the Supreme Court’s decision would cause Democratic candidates in swing areas to suddenly embrace Obama’s health-care law, Tester’s, Kaine’s and Trivedi’s responses should serve as a strong dose of reality. And there will be more like them in the hours to come.

Democrats have been much slower to respond to the decision than Republicans have — a reflection of the uneasy situation they are still in. The GOP, meanwhile, quickly jumped on the decision, reiterating calls for a full repeal and promising to make it an issue in the fall campaign, now that the law is mostly intact. The House GOP has also scheduled a repeal vote for two weeks from now.

View Photo Gallery: The Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s health-care law on Thursday. Here are other instances when the high court has dipped into political fights.

While the victory is a big one for Obama, we need to remember that it’s a legal victory and not a victory in the court of public opinion (where views are pretty well cemented). Just because something passes constitutional muster doesn’t mean that Americans are suddenly going to believe it’s a good thing.

These Democrats know that. And this will continue to be a tough issue for them to deal with over the next four months. Today’s decision, while an important policy and legal victory for Obama, did little to change that political reality.

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Ruling reactions from the Supreme Court steps

Next: House GOP will try to repeal

Health care takes center stage, again

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