Democrats can’t even agree whether Obamacare was the reason for their crushing loss in a Florida special election Tuesday.
Now picture how their messaging plan for the health care law is shaping up for 2014.
Republican lobbyist David Jolly’s victory over Democrat Alex Sink has many Democrats privately worried and publicly split about how to talk about Obamacare.
(Full health care policy coverage)
A few Democrats are advocating a drastic rhetorical shift to the left, by criticizing their own party for not going far enough when it passed the law in 2010.
Other Democrats plan to sharply criticize the Affordable Care Act when running for re-election.
Many plan to stick to the simple message that Obamacare is flawed and needs to be fixed —a tactic that plainly didn’t work for Sink.
Taken together, the Democratic Party is heading into an already tough election year divided — instead of united — on the very issue Republicans plan to make central to their campaigns.
(Administration: 4.2 million people signed up for Obamacare plans)
The political tug of Obamacare is neatly encapsulated by Rep. Ron Barber, a Democrat who holds a Tucson, Ariz., area seat. Barber said he’s uncomfortable with his party’s health care message, and added that you “can’t, with a straight face, stand up and say this is a perfect bill.” He wishes Democrats would “be willing to be honest about this legislation and to be willing to point out, and not be defensive, and say what’s good about it and say what we are willing to change.
But illustrating the tension, Martha McSally, Barber’s opponent, appeared at a closed House Republican Conference meeting Wednesday, saying she’s “on offense” against Obamacare, and the Florida results prove her race is winnable.
Vulnerable members of the president’s party appeared to run from questions about it Wednesday.
(Who says lobbyists can't win?)
Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) — one of the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents — twice waved off a reporter’s questions. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who will likely face GOP Rep. Cory Gardner in November, said he would prefer to answer a reporter’s question by phone to offer a “coherent” response. But his aides did not later make him available for an interview.
|THE IMPACT WILL BE FELT ELSEWHERE|
Democrats are concerned the health care law’s approval ratings won’t rebound by the time voters go to the polls in November. Even more significantly, they fear the law’s unpopularity — along with President Barack Obama’s flagging approval ratings — could keep Democrats home in November, according to conversations with several top lawmakers and aides.Republicans seem to think they’ve struck political gold, but Democrats aren’t even sure how to interpret the loss. A veteran Democratic fundraiser called the loss a “double whammy,” hurting the party with major donors and energizing Republicans. Some senior members of the party say the defeat in a district President Barack Obama won twice means nothing, and Democrats should not fret. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who is likely to have a tight race in November, attributed Sink’s defeat to flood insurance legislation, which played a minor role compared to Jolly’s nearly singular focus on the health care law.
(Florida special election results)
This all comes as Democrats and Republicans are gearing up for a brutal battle for control of Congress this fall. Jolly’s victory over Sink, while not a definitive measure of the political climate, is not a good sign for Obama’s party as voters head to the ballot box in less than eight months. Republicans are expected to make some gains in the midterms, but the results in Florida show Democrats could be facing stiffer headwinds than they thought in protecting their five-seat majority in the Senate and chipping away at Republican control of the House.