As they pursue an advantage on the Medicare issue in the Nov. 6 elections, Republicans are turning to personal allies for help: Mom and Dad.
“Richard Mourdock cares about seniors, and he won’t let us down,” an elderly man says to the camera in an ad for the Indiana state treasurer seeking a U.S. Senate seat.
“I should know,” the man concludes, “I’m his father.”
Ads like Mourdock’s seek to put a human face on Medicare and defuse Democrats’ criticism that Republican plans to curb government spending would hurt the health insurance program for Americans age 65 and older. Debate over Medicare has intensified since Wisconsin U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, an author of budget proposals to overhaul the program, became the Republican vice-presidential nominee last month.
Ryan, 42, has introduced his mother at campaign events including the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, where he said Aug. 29 that Medicare helped a grandmother with Alzheimer’s disease and is “there for my mom today.”
The Republican campaign on Medicare includes labeling as deep “cuts” the $716 billion in cost savings that President Barack Obama’s 2010 health-care law anticipates from scaling back payments to hospitals and other providers. The personal ads underscore the importance of the Medicare issue in the election.
Empathy and Caring
“It’s just a way of communicating this sense of empathy and caring, which the public responds to,” John Geer, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who specializes in campaign advertising.
Voters “don’t necessarily know all the details of Medicare policy, but they want to know that there’s somebody who’s going to care about it and try to protect it,” he said. “And one way to communicate that is through an elderly parent.”
Republicans are seeking the upper hand on Medicare against Democrats, who have had a longstanding advantage in opinion surveys that ask voters which party would do a better job managing the program enacted in 1965.
Obama led Republican challenger Mitt Romney by 51 percent to 38 percent on the question of which candidate would do the best job of dealing with Medicare, according to a Pew Research Center survey taken Sept. 12-16. By a 54 percent to 31 percent margin, voters trust Obama and congressional Democrats to preserve the long-term financial health of Medicare over Romney and congressional Republicans, according to a United Technologies/National Journal poll taken Sept. 7-9.
At least seven candidates for Congress, all Republicans, have aired TV ads on Medicare that include or call attention to an elderly parent, according to a Bloomberg review of ads from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.
“The fact that it’s being done so much tells me the Republicans are worried about Medicare as an issue that could hurt them in the fall election,” Geer said.
The Medicare issue may influence the vote in contests including Mourdock’s in Indiana, one of 10 Senate races that the independent Cook Political Report says has no clear favorite. Mourdock, 60, is reaching out to more mainstream voters after unseating Senator Richard G. Lugar in the Republican primary with help from anti-government spending Tea Party activists. Mourdock is in a close race with Democratic Representative Joe Donnelly, 57, polls show.
Colorado Republican U.S. Representative Mike Coffman, 57, appears in an ad with his mother, a Medicare recipient, whom he tells viewers is his “number one adviser on Medicare” as he says he’s working to “protect every nickel” of the program. Coffman’s district was reconfigured before this year’s election to absorb more Democrats, creating a more challenging re-election race in the suburbs of Denver.
Campaign aides approached Coffman with the idea of including his mother in a campaign commercial, and “he loved it,” Owen Loftus, a campaign spokesman, said in an interview. “He brought it up to his mom, she loved it, and wanted to take part in it.”
The ad is “a fun way to get our point across” and shows that “Mike has a personal interest in protecting Medicare,” Loftus said.
Indiana Republican Jackie Walorski, a former state legislator, is running an ad in a U.S. House race that shows her helping an elderly woman, identified as Martha, with an application to receive Social Security benefits.
“In Congress I’ll oppose any cuts in Social Security or Medicare,” Walorski, 49, says. “This is personal to me, because Martha’s my mom.”
Republican Representative Joe Heck of Nevada, seeking a second term in a competitive district in metropolitan Las Vegas, uses a Medicare-themed ad to talk about his father’s recovery from a heart attack two years ago.
“That’s when I knew how important Medicare was to me,” Heck, 50, says in the ad, as it shows a photograph of him with his father. “Medicare and team of great doctors saved my dad’s life.”