Ever since President Obama seized on the announcement of eight million Obamacare sign-ups to urge Democratic candidates to run proudly on the law, commentators have been debating whether Dem candidates should — or would — listen. The media storyline has been that, No, Dems are uniformly running from the law — proof, once again, that it is nothing but a political disaster.
This is a vast oversimplification of what’s actually happening.
Today, Dem Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who is locked in a tough Dem primary to take on GOP Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, is up with a new spot that is probably the most aggressively pro-Obamacare ad of the cycle:
There is no apology for the rollout problems. Schwartz leads with the law as an accomplishment: “I worked with President Obama on the Affordable Care Act and getting health coverage to all Americans…Insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to kids with preexisting conditions.” And she frames a stark contrast around the Medicaid expansion: “Tom Corbett has decided not to take the Medicaid money. As governor, I will take the Medicaid expansion, because 500,000 Pennsylvanians need health coverage.”
Schwartz spokesman Mark Berg emails: “We believe this is a winning strategy not just for us but for Democrats around the country.”
This ad is partly aimed at Dem primary voters, and this is a blueish state, so it doesn’t shed much light on how Dems are handling the law on tougher turf. That said, it happens to be true that even some of the most vulnerable Dem Senators and candidates are standing up for it as good social policy or are attacking Republicans over the implications of repeal. The framing on the Medicaid expansion used by Schwartz is not that different from that used by Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Gary Peters in Michigan, and (to a lesser extent) Kay Hagan in North Carolina.
I’ve already laid out the many ways Dems are, to some degree, running on Obamacare, and the good reasons they have in some cases for not making it central. No, Dems are not building entire campaigns around the law. Yes, disapproval remains high. But the notion that they are uniformly running away from it is a huge distortion.
Discussions of the politics of Obamacare are suffering from many of the same deficits that plague discussions of the policy — they are lagging behind indicators of changing facts on the ground. It is as if there is an unwritten rule that such analysis must not take into account public opinion on repeal — the stance of every 2014 GOP candidate — and must not mention that multiple Republican candidates are having their own problems as repeal becomes less tenable. Those things can be relevant even as it’s also true that on balance, Obamacare remains a net negative for Dems, and they have at least a 50-50 chance of losing the Senate.
Much commentary accepts as face value the GOP spin that Dems are uniformly running from Obamacare — presenting the Dem economic agenda as merely a distraction — even as the politics of the GOP repeal stance, and what it says about the total lack of an agenda for Republicans to run on, is subjected to zero skepticism. This may change, as Brian Beutler points out:
Where some members of the media were prepared until recently to interpret the Democratic agenda as a distraction from Obamacare, more will soon come to interpret Republicans’ obsession with Obamacare as a distraction from their complete lack of one.
I hope so. I don’t think it’s likely that embattled Dems will embrace Schwartz’s strategy. But the ways in which Dems are actually running on Obamacare — and the ways in which the politics of the issue are shifting — deserve to be taken more seriously.
* HOUSE GOPERS WARY OF BOEHNER ON IMMIGRATION: Byron York reports that John Boehner’s recent suggestion that he might want to act on immigration this year has sparked mass panic among House Republicans, who are gaming out various scenarios by which Boehner could go around them:
By some reckonings, there are perhaps 20 to 30 House Republicans (out of 232) who support doing anything of significance on immigration reform. But Boehner would clearly like to take some sort of action. Well aware of the conflict beween his own wishes and that of the GOP rank-and-file, the speaker has been extraordinarily guarded about his intentions.
It needs to be restated: The problem here is not Obama; it’s Republicans. House Republicans are not willing to figure out if there is any set of conditions and terms uner which they can support some form of legal status for the 11 million. The prospects for reform — which Boehner says he wants — turn entirely on whether he is willing to act in spite of reluctance in the GOP caucus. All the talk about “not trusting Obama” is just a smoke-screen designed to obscure these basics.
* SOME REPUBLICANS WANT IMMIGRATION REFORM: Today, a number of former GOP officials and business leaders are set to call on House Republicans to get behind a national immigration overhaul. Reminder: Many Republican-aligned constituencies — the business community; agricultural interests; evangelicals; the GOP consultant class; and even some Republican lawmakers — want reform, and when GOP leaders refuse to act on it, they are prioritizing the needs and desires of inveterate reform foes over them.
* A BOOST FOR DEMS IN ALASKA? This is interesting: It looks like referenda for a minimum wage hike (and for the legalization of marijuana) will be on the ballot this fall in Alaska. Dems hope this provides a boost in turnout for embattled Senate incumbent Mark Begich — if he hangs on, the road to a GOP majority gets steeper. Dem strategists see the minimum wage as key to getting out core voters who tend to fall off in midterms.
* NEW SENATE RACE RANKINGS: The New York Times’s new verticle, The Upshot, is live, and its Senate rankings give Dems a 51 percent change of hanging on to the Senate. Notably, they give Dems a better chance of hanging on to North Carolina and Alaska than Arkansas and Louisiana, which doesn’t really track with what national Dems think. Either way, are we allowed to say that a glorious GOP Senate takeover is not an absolute certainty yet?
* GOP ESTABLISHMENT BEATING BACK TEA PARTY: NBC’s First Read crew has a useful overview of what’s to come:
Two weeks from today, the first of several competitive GOP primaries in May will take place. And if there’s a common theme in several of these contests, it’s that the Republican establishment candidates appear to have the edge — at least right now — which presents a test for the Tea Party. In North Carolina (May 6), the Chamber of Commerce-backed Thom Tillis has the advantage, although a potential runoff (if no one gets more than 40% of the vote) could make things much more interesting for the North Carolina state House speaker. In Kentucky (May 20), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell looks to be solid shape against Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin (don’t miss the new McConnell and Bevin TV ads). In Georgia (also May 20), the top-two candidates are the establishment-backed David Perdue and GOP Rep. Jack Kingston; by contrast, the most conservative Republicans (Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey) are trailing the field.
Dems are looking for a few breaks here — a Tea Partyer winning in Georgia; or Thom Tillis getting forced into a runoff in North Carolina.
* OBAMA’S CLIMATE LEGACY HANGS IN THE BALANCE: Coral Davenport has an interesting piece detailing that for all the focus on Keystone, it would have far, far less of an impact on carbon emissions than Obama’s forthcoming rules to cut emissions at existing power plants:
Experts say that Mr. Obama’s eventual decision on the pipeline will have a marginal impact on global warming emissions, while those dull-sounding E.P.A. rules and treaty talks will determine his enviromental legacy…the combined impact of the current and forthcoming E.P.A. regulations could lead to cuts of over one billion tons of emissions annually.
With Congress locked in stalemate, Obama’s legacy will be determined by his willingness to exercise executive authority to curb carbon emissions — something that will not be politically easy to do.
* AND A NEW ‘PROGRESSIVE BOOK CLUB’: With Elizabeth Warren’s new book on Wall Street and the 99 percent due out today, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee is launching a new progressive book club that will feature national telephone discussions with noted liberal authors, beginning with Warren herself. This sort of thing is worth watching to determine whether the development of an economic populist wing of the Democratic Party is underway, which could have broad ramifications for 2016 and beyond.