For many months after the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s website, it was widely stated as incontrovertible fact that Obamacare was the primary reason Democrats were likely to lose control of the Senate.
But new ad data compiled by Bloomberg News tells a very different story. In three of the top-tier Senate races — North Carolina, Arkansas, and Louisiana — spending on spots about the health law has fallen sharply:
The party’s experience across the country shows that Republicans can’t count on the issue to motivate independent voters they need to oust Democrats in Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska…
In April, anti-Obamacare advertising dwarfed all other spots in North Carolina. It accounted for 3,061, or 54 percent, of the 5,704 top five issue ads in North Carolina, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group. By July, the numbers had reversed, with anti-Obamacare ads accounting for 971, or 27 percent, of the top issue ads, and the budget, government spending, jobs and unemployment accounting for 2,608, or 72 percent, of such ads, CMAG data show….
The situation is much the same in Arkansas, where Mark Pryor is trying to keep his Senate seat, and Louisiana, where Mary Landrieu is in a tight race for a fourth term. Obamacare was just about the only issue on the air in Louisiana in April, according to CMAG. By July, it had dropped to 41 percent of the top five issue ads, and in Arkansas just 23 percent.
Ad spending is not the only metric that suggests Obamacare is fading as an issue. For months, GOP candidates for Senate have quietly moderated their rhetoric on the health law, professing continued support for repeal while mumbling that they support the law’s general goals of expanded coverage and strengthened consumer protections, without saying how they would accomplish those goals.
Some GOP candidates, such as Thom Tillis in North Carolina and Scott Brown in New Hampshire, have even vaguely claimed the newly insured should somehow continue to enjoy the law’s benefits after it is repealed — again, without saying how. Others, such as Terri Lynn Land in Michigan and Tom Cotton in Arkansas, won’t say whether the Medicaid expansion moving forward in their states should be rolled back. Even Mitch McConnell has struggled with these matters. All this is inconsistent with the idea that Obamacare is a uniform political disaster for Dems and nothing but a huge winner for Republicans.
But wait — does this mean Democrats will necessarily hold the Senate? No, it doesn’t. Dems could very well lose the Senate. I’d say the chances are greater than 50-50. But this possibility — combined with the fading of Obamacare as an issue — is entirely consistent with the view that Obamacare is not the primary reason Dem control of the Senate is at risk. Rather, the problem is the makeup of the map and the tendency of Dem voter groups to sit out midterms. Would Obama be more popular and less of a drag on Dems if not for the ACA? That’s possible. But it’s hard to disentangle Obama’s broader unpopularity from opinion on the law.
All this matters going forward, because if Republicans do win the Senate, they will broadly assert Obamacare was the main reason why — indeed, they continue to insist it’s a driving issue — to game press analysis and claim a renewed mandate against it. The press may well play along. But the actual behavior of GOP candidates and campaigns should prompt serious media skepticism about such claims.
* A ROMNEY BACKER WHO BENEFITED FROM OBAMACARE: Also in the above Bloomberg story, this is striking:
Rose Duke, a 44-year-old from Raleigh who cast her ballot for Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, is one of Obamacare’s new beneficiaries. Duke, who lost her flooring business after her husband died last year, says she now has a favorable view of the law and is angry at her state’s Republican governor, Pat McCrory, for refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Duke has a diabetic daughter who was initially denied health-insurance coverage because of the state’s swollen Medicaid rolls. “My child got caught up in the political B.S.,” she said. “I had to walk in there and beg them for help,” said Duke, who eventually got coverage from Medicaid, the federal-state program for lower-income Americans.
Coming to an ad soon? Well, probably not, given Dem skittishness about taking on the issue in ads, but perhaps it’s not a bad idea.
* SENATE DEMS OUTRAISE GOP YET AGAIN: The DSCC has announced that it raised $.7.7 million in July, and now has 32 million on hand to spend turning back GOP challengers. Meanwhile, the NRSC raised $5.4 million and now has $26.6 million on hand.
With the final stretch of the campaigns set to begin, it’s worth noting once again that vulnerable Dem incumbents appear to have survived the initial barrage of outside spending. These incumbents mostly have more on hand than their GOP counterparts, and those resources will now be fully activated, too.
* ALISON GRIMES AND MITCH McCONNELL SET TO DEBATE: The two candidates in the Kentucky Senate race have agreed to a debate on the evening of October 13th.
Grimes has earned praise for her willingness to tear into McConnell with the toughness and nastiness that McConnell himself has long displayed. This, plus the Grimes campaign’s premise that her vigor and newcomer status make for a favorable contrast with “yesterday’s Senator,” will be put to the test.
* ALASKA PRIMARY SET FOR TODAY: Voters in Alaska go to the polls today to choose the GOP nominee against Senator Mark Begich. The GOP establishment pick, former state official Dan Sullivan, leads in polls, but Nate Cohn explains why the state’s quirky makeup make it difficult to poll, meaning a victory by Tea Partier Joe Miller remains possible.
Democrats would certainly prefer to face Miller, but all the reporting indicates they are ready to face Sullivan. Alaska may be key to Dem hopes of holding the Senate.
* A COMING GOP SPLIT ON GAY RIGHTS: An interesting USA Today scoop:
A Republican group tied to hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer plans to spend at least $2 million up to Election Day to boost congressional candidates who share its views in favor of gay rights.
The increasing efforts of pro-gay-rights Republicans to move their party in the right direction is a storyline worth watching, and could get particularly interesting if gay marriage becomes an issue in the coming GOP presidential primary.
* THE PROBLEM WITH REFORM CONSERVATISM: With the “reformi-cons” trying to craft a middle class economic agenda for that has eluded the GOP, Michael Gerson zeros in on the problem: There’s still insufficient outreach to minorities, and that undercuts the whole project:
Yes, Republicans desperately require policies responsive to the economic anxieties of middle-income voters…But the public critique of the GOP is not merely: “They don’t care enough about the middle class.” It is, rather: “They don’t care enough about the whole.” The Republican task is not merely to shift an impression of interest-group allegiance away from big business and toward suburban families (though this would be an improvement). It is to demonstrate that conservative ideology is applicable to the common good.
Footnote: That RNC autopsy into what went wrong in 2012 also suggested steps in this direction. But we all know how much of an impact that had.
* AND THE TERRI LAND FOLLIES CONTINUE: In the latest on the Michigan Senate race, the Detroit News scoops:
Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Gary Peters and his wife paid an effective federal income tax rate of 18 percent in the last three years, a contrast to the less than 3 percent tax Republican opponent Terri Lynn Land paid on her income after sizable deductions.
Land’s campaign claims Peters is “attacking her family” by making this an issue. But one expert notes Land is bankrolling her own campaign with her husband’s wealth while filing her return separately to conceal that wealth — making this fair game. Amazing that Republicans didn’t want Land as their candidate!