It’s widely accepted as incontrovertible fact that the politics of health care this cycle are nothing but a disaster for Democrats. But if Republicans are certain that Obamacare will win them the Senate, Dems are seeking to turn the health care debate to their advantage by hitting Republicans on Medicare — just as they did during the last cycle, in which they won most of their elections.
The DSCC is up with a new ad in Louisiana ripping GOP candidate Bill Cassidy over his support for the Paul Ryan budget — an issue Dems have been pressing hard in this state for months. Dems are also airing a new spot in Iowa hitting GOP candidate Joni Ernst for wanting to “end the Medicare guarantee,” a reference to her vote as a state legislator against a measure disapproving of the Ryan plan.
In Arkansas, Dem Senator Mark Pryor’s campaign has invested heavily in ads touting his efforts to make it harder to raise the Medicare eligiblity age, while pointing out that Republican Tom Cotton voted for a budget that would have hiked it to 70 years of age. Pryor has also run ads hitting Cotton over his support for Ryan’s designs on Medicare. Dems privately say that Pryor — who was widely dismissed early on by Beltway pundits as a Dead Dem Walking — now has a decent chance of hanging on almost entirely because of his sharp criticism of Cotton’s positions on social insurance.
If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it is. This seems to have been forgotten, but Democrats essentially won the war over Medicare in the last cycle, one reason (Dems believe) they were able to neutralize Republican attacks on unpopular Obamacare. Every time Republicans said, “Obamacare will cut $700 billion from Medicare,” Dems responded with, “Paul Ryan would end Medicare as we know it.”
Medicare was a key issue in multiple 2012 Senate races — Dems ran ads hitting GOP candidates over Medicare and the Ryan plan, and Republicans hit Dem candidates over Obamacare’s Medicare cuts — yet Dems won most of those races. Polling suggested that the ideological clash of visions underlying the Medicare battle had become a serious liability to Republicans in the key swing states of Florida, Ohio, and Virginia — all of which hosted Senate races Dems won that year.
Obviously there are all kinds of differences between the 2012 and 2014 cycles. The older, more GOP-leaning midterm electorate is far more favorable to Republicans this time around. But Dems hope that the specter of Paul Ryan might come to their aid once again, this time among the dwindling number of persuadable middle-aged and even older voters that could help decide extremely tough Senate battles.
Along these lines, one nuance is worth appreciating: Dems hope that in Arkansas and Louisiana, hitting Republicans over Medicare and the Paul Ryan plan might constitute new information, because neither state was contested in 2012 on the Senate or presidential levels and wasn’t bombarded with messaging around those topics. Will it be enough to overcome Dems’ built-in disadvantages? No idea. But as noted here before, Dems are employing a “kitchen sink strategy,” in which they throw literally every issue they can at the deep structural problems they’re facing, and hope their majority squeaks through on the margins.