To Republicans, the federal health care law passed two years ago by Democratic majorities in Congress and signed by President Barack Obama is a favorite example of government overreach and excessive spending. Calls for its repeal have become easy applause lines in GOP stump speeches and part of the party’s case to independent voters.
But don’t expect Obama to cede that ground in his re-election bid this year. As part of an effort in key battleground states, including Nevada, the Obama campaign will begin this week using pieces of the health care law to try to win over women, senior citizens, Hispanics and young adults.
The effort comes amid a fracas over insurance coverage for contraception and abortion that national polls show is hurting Republicans with women voters — a critical demographic for the president’s re-election effort.
In coming weeks, the Obama campaign will launch Nurses for Obama in Nevada to tout the health care law. The campaign also will champion the health care law’s merits through phone banks and door-to-door canvassing.
“In two years, every single American, regardless of their circumstances, will have access to affordable, quality health insurance,” Aoife McCarthy, a spokeswoman for Obama’s Nevada campaign, said. “Presidents have been trying to make that happen for 70 years. President Obama got it done.”
By talking about what’s popular in the health care law, Democrats hope to seize control of the debate over the law that Republicans derisively call “Obamacare.”
Indeed, polling shows parts of the law have strong voter approval — subsidies, coverage of pre-existing medical conditions, free preventive care and prohibitions on lifetime coverage caps.
The problem for Democrats, and the boon for Republicans politically, is that in order to make it work, the law mandates every individual carry health insurance or be fined. That provision remains deeply unpopular with voters, according to polls.
Still, the reasoning behind Obama’s championing of the health care law is twofold: It’s a rallying cry for the Democratic base, and it appeals to women voters, particularly as the debate over contraception coverage gets louder.
Democrats hope to frame the debate this way: “The president is fighting for these provisions while Republicans like Mitt Romney and the rest of the field are fighting to take them away,” Democratic spokesman Zac Petkanas said. “It’s a powerful message and one we see resonate in the polls.”
The Obama campaign also will be touting provisions of the law that are popular with other key groups of voters in Nevada: senior citizens — the law helps them with prescription drug benefits — and young adults — they can remain on their parents’ insurance longer.
The tactic worked for Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., during his tough 2010 re-election campaign, when he blunted Republican attacks on the health care law by touting its more popular provisions.
“The president owns this bill, so frankly it doesn’t work for him to run away from it,” a Democratic strategist said. “And given the polling, there’s no reason why he should.”