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National Politics

Local Republicans see health care as winning issue for November

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 07:14 PM
TAMPA -

Is the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, a vindication of President Barack Obama's achievement or a millstone around the necks of Democrats heading into the November election?

Republicans claimed the latter Thursday.

The court's decision, upholding a law most citizens say they don't like — and labeling it a tax — will energize the GOP base and make the issue a weapon for them, they said.

The Mitt Romney campaign put out a fundraising solicitation based on the decision immediately after it was announced and said it raised more than $1 million in the first three hours, with the total continuing to grow.

Joe Gruters, chairman of the Sarasota County Republican Party, put out his own fundraising email, headlined, "A sleeping giant has awakened."

Repealing the Affordable Care Act "will be our most significant rallying cry for a November victory," said Al Cardenas, former Florida GOP chairman and now head of the American Conservative Union.

Rep. Connie Mack IV, challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in November, called the act "a disgustingly large tax increase" and told reporters in a conference call he will stigmatize Nelson as "the deciding vote" for the law, even though Nelson was not among the last of the 60 yes-voting senators to make his decision.

"Losing a major battle always tends to galvanize the losing side and focus their attention on righting what they perceive to be a wrong," said retired University of South Florida political scientist Darryl Paulson.

"In the next few days I think the Republicans will attack the ACA as a huge tax increase on the American people at a time where Democrats specifically said the ACA would not increase taxes."

Will the tactic work?

It could depend on how good a job Obama's campaign and the White House do of political messaging, said Dan Smith, a University of Florida expert on political campaigns.

The key point for Democrats, Smith said, is that even though most Americans say they don't like the law, they do like the specifics of what it does, even most Republicans.

"The question is who, ultimately, will be able to frame this issue," he said. "The opinion helps the Republicans and Mitt Romney frame it as a tax, and they're going to run to the bank with that," he said.

"But the fact is, most Americans like the specific policies that have been upheld."

On creating insurance exchanges to help small businesses provide employee coverage, allowing young people to stay on their parents' policies, even subsidizing coverage for those who can't afford it, "Majorities of Republicans, not to mention independents and Democrats, favor those things," Smith said.

The biggest is forbidding denial of coverage to those with pre-existing health conditions. "Three-quarters of Republicans approve of that," he said.

Asked whether the decision will help Republicans, Obama campaign spokesman Eric Jotkoff referred to Obama's own comments Thursday citing the benefits of the act.

"I know the debate over this law has been divisive," Obama said, adding, "It should be pretty clear by now that I didn't do this because it was good politics."

Nelson, meanwhile, sent out his own fundraising email, noting some of the popular points in the law, including forbidding companies from canceling policies for people who get sick.

"Who would oppose any of this?" he said. "Turns out the right-wing extremists do."

Republican candidates up and down the ballot responded to the Thursday decision with a clamor for repealing the law.

"My first reaction to the decision by the Supreme Court, I'm angry, and disbelief," Mack said in his conference call, then noted he had "again filed repeal legislation."

Asked if he would support any measures to try to replace the law by providing broader health care coverage or lowering costs, he said, "Of course … but the first order of business is to repeal Sen. Nelson and Barack Obama's liberal takeover of health care."

He offered few specifics on how to replace the law, mentioning more limits on malpractice lawsuits and allowing more "association health coverage," individuals and small employers banding together to purchase group coverage.


wmarch@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7761

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