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How Democrats could win back the House on health care, in 4 polls

Health care was arguably the issue that cost Democrats control of Congress back in 2010. But eight years later, evidence is piling up that health care could help Democrats retake the House majority for the first time since then.

This time around, Democrats can’t run enough ads attacking their Republican opponents for trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. And The Washington Post’s Erica Werner and David Weigel have a smart look at how Republicans have started campaigning on protecting coverage for preexisting conditions — even Republicans who helped lead efforts to undo Obamacare, like Missouri Senate candidate Josh Hawley.

On Thursday, President Trump tried to reframe the health care debate for the entire Republican Party by claiming that “all Republicans support people with pre-existing conditions.”

It’s a 180 from the past three or four elections, when Democrats were running away from health care and losing races to Republicans who promised to undo Obamacare and its central provision to provide health insurance to people with preexisting conditions. (Perhaps unhelpful to Hawley and other Republican candidates, the top Senate Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is still focused on the GOP base, saying this week that Republicans might try again to repeal Obamacare next year if they have the votes.)

So how did this political transition on health care come about? Polling tells the story.

The protections that Obamacare offered got popular as soon as Republicans tried to take them away

Kaiser Family Foundation has been tracking Obamacare’s popularity since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. And there’s an obvious connection — rarely seen in polling this clearly — of Obamacare getting popular just as Republicans in Congress were trying to get rid of it.

Kaiser marks the spot, April 2017, where public opinion of the law was tied at 46 percent between voters who approved and disapproved of it.

At the time, Republicans in the House were weeks away from passing a bill repealing Obamacare. It was controversial: Nonpartisan interest groups like AARP opposed the bill, saying it would mean older and poorer Americans would face much higher premiums. Nonpartisan budget analysts predicted the number of uninsured people would skyrocket under the various plans offered.

Republicans' plan eventually passed by just a few votes, with no Democrats supporting it.

“Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye!” Democrats sang to their Republican colleagues after the bill passed. It sounded a little overconfident then, but ...

Health care has been climbing the ranks in top issues since then

Since then, more Americans have approved of Obamacare than disapproved. And even worse for Republicans, Americans started stressing just how important health care was to their vote for Congress in 2018 and saying that they blamed Republicans for anything going wrong in the law now that the GOP tried to undo it. (Republicans did repeal a central part of Obamacare, the individual mandate requiring people to have insurance or pay a fine, in a December tax bill.)

Ads started popping up across the country of Democratic challengers attacking House Republicans for their vote to repeal Obamacare.

In Illinois, Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan grabbed a photo of Rep. Rodney Davis (R) smiling at a Rose Garden news conference where Republicans celebrated passing the House bill, shading it as if it were a crime scene photo.

And perhaps the buzziest ad of 2018 was on health care. It comes from Democrat Randy Bryce, who is running in Wisconsin for retiring House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s seat. It’s an emotional ad that starts off with his mother talking about how much she relies on health insurance for her multiple sclerosis and casts Bryce as a man of the people.

Democrat Randy Bryce is running for the seat being vacated by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). (Video: Randy Bryce for Congress/YouTube)

The 13 ads that define these midterm elections

That ad came out just a few months after Kaiser marked the highest approval rating for Obamacare in 80 polls over eight years — 54 percent in February. That change, Kaiser said, was the result of the 55 percent of independents saying they approved of the law, breaking the 50 percent mark for the first time.

By July, Kaiser found that 58 percent of Americans held Republicans and Trump responsible for any problems in the Affordable Care Act since they had tried to repeal it. In other words: You try to break it, you own it.

They also found that most Americans, regardless of party, care about a candidate’s position on continuing protections for people with preexisting health conditions.

Weeks before Election Day, health care is indisputably the top issue among voters

We have three polls out this week that tell that story.

In an Oct. 14 Washington Post-ABC News poll, 82 percent of voters said health care is one of the most important issues in their votes for Congress — precisely matching the king of top issues in elections, the economy. That poll finds voters trust Democrats over Republicans to improve their health-care situation.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll out Thursday also finds that voters say health care is the top issue, over the economy. That goes for the all-important independent vote. And it holds true for voters in swing states like Florida and Nevada, both states with competitive governor’s and Senate races.

Perhaps the most devastating find for Republicans comes from a new Fox News poll. Voters who say health care is their most important issue prefer Democrats by 24 percentage points.