“It didn’t go well for Republicans then, and there’s reason to believe that public opinion is more likely to be against them now,” said Jennifer Palmieri, White House communications director and a veteran of the Clinton White House.
Polls show that Americans agree with the Democratic view that Obamacare should remain law. Voters also strongly oppose a debt default or a government shutdown as part of a ploy to strip funding for the health-insurance expansion.
But despite Democrats’ convictions that they will come out ahead, there’s evidence that both sides may get blamed in a shutdown. One Pew Research Center poll this week reported that 39 percent of respondents would blame Republicans if the government shut down, compared with 36 percent who would blame Obama.
Another challenge for Democrats is that many Republicans are less vulnerable than they were in the 1990s because gerrymandering has narrowed the number of competitive seats in the House, with only about two dozen GOP seats in play.
“I’m not going to say the Democrats are going to pick up 20 seats because the 2010 redistricting redrew the districts in such a remarkable way,” said Democratic strategist Paul Begala.
As the conflict has escalated in recent weeks, the Democratic budget strategy has had two prongs: First, Obama and his party avoided negotiations with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) over changes to Obamacare or a deal over the debt limit, both of which are characterized by Democrats as not up for negotiation.
Second, Democrats have repeatedly targeted Boehner with attacks, portraying him as a weak leader who succumbed to tea party pressure to pursue the Obamacare defunding strategy.
The approach was evident when Obama called Boehner in recent days to warn him that he wouldn’t negotiate over either issue. Then, at the request of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), Obama abandoned preliminary discussions to hold a bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders this week.
The congressional timeline is now such that Boehner will probably have to make a snap judgment about passing a funding bill on Monday or let large swaths of the government cease operations.
Publicly, the White House and Democrats have been working to make sure as much blame as possible is put on Boehner and the Republicans for a potential shutdown.
Senior Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer wrote in a message to the White House e-mail list this week that “Republicans still care more about scoring political points on Obamacare than keeping the government open and our economy moving forward.”
Organizing for America, Obama’s former campaign organization, has attacked Boehner in television advertisements and other messages, and said it is planning rallies across the country as well.
The issue is already erupting in several competitive congressional contests.
In Illinois’ 13th District, for instance, Democratic candidate Ann Callis, a former judge, has attacked Rep. Rodney Davis (R) and other Republicans for putting “the livelihood of millions of Americans in doubt to prove a political point.”
In Michigan’s 1st District, retired Gen. Jerry Cannon warned after Republicans voted to strip funding for Obama’s health-care law that “the paychecks of troops and other military workers would be delayed indefinitely” if the government shut down.
Republicans, meanwhile, are targeting Democratic incumbents with ads linking them to Obamacare. The National Republican Congressional Committee has attacked Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), warning of “higher premiums for Georgia families.”
GOP television ads have also accused Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.) of “voting to keep the scandal-ridden IRS in charge of enforcing Obamacare.”
Philip Rucker contributed to this report.