Voters oust half of House Democrats who opposed health-care law

A recap of election night highlights.
By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 3:14 PM

Did Democrats dig their own graves by passing the unpopular health-care bill last year? That remains uncertain: The midterm elections Tuesday provided zero clarity on this often-debated question.

Of the 34 House Democrats who voted against the health-care bill, exactly half were defeated. The list of naysayers includes Reps. Zach Space of Ohio, Glenn Nye of Virginia, Gene Taylor of Mississippi, and Chet Edwards of Texas.

In the Ohio district next door to Space's, Democratic Rep. John Boccieri voted for the bill, but he also lost. Ditto for Virginia. Nye said no, but Rep. Tom Perriello said yes; both were bounced out from office by Republicans who want to repeal the bill.

Democratic leaders were hoping voters would reward Democrats like Boccieri and Perriello for staying true to their convictions. Instead, the two freshmen lawmakers were among the 32 (at last count) Democrats who supported health care and were defeated.

Some Democrats concede privately they missed two key signs that the health-care bill, at least as it had taken shape, would be a very tough sell to voters. In the summer of 2009, Sen. Charles Grassley (R), a chief GOP negotiator, abruptly backed away from the process, in part because he was hearing rumblings of a potential primary challenger back home in Iowa. And in January, Republican Scott Brown won a surprise victory in a special election to fill the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's Massachusetts seat. One of Brown's pledges: to drive a stake in health-care reform.

But Democrats persevered, relying on parliamentary maneuvering to deliver a landmark bill.

Four Democrats who voted no on health care are retiring from Congress. Just one of them, Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama, will be succeeded by a Democrat. Twelve health-care opponents held on to their seats, and one Democrat, Rep. Ben Chandler of Kentucky, is running slightly ahead in a race that remains too close to call.

At a White House news conference on Wednesday, President Obama said he had no regrets about the health-care bill, although he acknowledged that the process was messy and off-putting, with all the deals Democrats cut with health-care industry groups and individual lawmakers who sought concessions in exchange for their votes.

Confronted with exit poll data suggesting that one in two voters wants to repeal the bill, Obama responded, "Well, it also means one or - one out of two voters think it was the right thing to do."

He continued, "I know that there are some Republican candidates who won last night who feel very strongly about it. I'm sure that this will be an issue that comes up in discussions with the Republican leadership. As I said before, though, I think we'd be misreading the election if we thought that the American people want to see us for the next two years re-litigate arguments that we had over the last two years."

MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST: Complete coverage of the health-care law

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