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Campaign 2014

Democrat Runs on Obamacare Without Mentioning Obamacare

Sen. Mark Pryor on July 22

Photograph by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

Sen. Mark Pryor on July 22

A Democratic politician fighting for reelection is using a strategy few would have imagined six months ago: Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor just released a new ad boasting about his yea vote for Obamacare.

Well, sort of. The ad never mentions the Affordable Care Act by name. Instead, it begins with Pryor and his father talking about the senator’s own cancer treatment and fighting with his insurer to get it covered. “I helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick or deny coverage for preexisting conditions,” Pryor says—a central piece of the Affordable Care Act.

Across the U.S., Republicans have been cutting their spending on issue ads about Obamacare, Bloomberg’s Heidi Przybyla reported on Aug. 19. Months ago, some in the GOP began quietly shifting their rhetoric from an incessant chorus of “repeal and replace.” That happened after people actually started getting coverage through the law, and a vote for repeal—absent a cogent alternative—began to sound like taking away health care.

Unfavorable views of the Affordable Care Act increased in July, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s monthly tracking poll. But a solid majority favors changing the existing law rather than dismantling it and starting from scratch.

Pryor’s opponent, GOP Representative Tom Cotton, didn’t hesitate to attack the senator for his Obamacare vote in a local TV interview Sunday. Cotton stuck to his “repeal Obamacare and start over” position. Asked about the people who already got coverage through the law, he said, “We’ll see what we can do in terms of reforming it and potentially protecting people who’ve already received some of the benefits.”

In Arkansas, about 168,000 residents had gotten coverage under the health law as of May 1, according to federal data (pdf). That includes those who benefited from the state’s private option, which uses Obamacare funds for expanding Medicaid to help low-income residents buy private health plans.

The private option was a politically palatable way for Democratic Governor Mike Beebe to expand Medicaid in a conservative state. Beebe and Pryor both seem to be betting that voters will like the benefits of the health law—even if they don’t like Obamacare.

Tozzi is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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