Why Obamacare Won't Define 2014 Race

Congressional Republicans are going to be screaming about Obamacare until they're blue in the face. If they're not careful, they may also turn their districts blue.

Today brings news of another delay in the implementation of Obamacare -- the second significant glitch this summer. Public approval of the law has been in the pits ever since it was signed into law in March 2010. The most recent RealClearPolitics.com average of polls on Obamacare, encompassing surveys from late June to early August, shows 51.3 percent of respondents opposed and only 39.5 percent in favor.

Meanwhile, House Republicans continue to give the law no quarter, attacking it on the House floor while seeking to sabotage implementation. The constant attacks underscore the lack of consensus around the law, making it a partisan litmus test (Repeal!) for Republican voters while leaving low-information voters, who hear only the hollering, uncomfortable with it.

If this sounds like a winner for Republicans in 2014 it probably isn't. And the shrewder Republican candidates running in battleground states and the increasingly rare swing districts will almost certainly soft-peddle their opposition.

Remember when the 2012 presidential race was going to be the Normandy Invasion of Republican attacks on Obamacare? The massive assault never materialized, in part because Mitt Romney was compromised on the issue, but also for the same reason that Republicans will be disadvantaged in 2014: Everyone knows the party has no plan for securing access to health care for the uninsured or for keeping costs down for everyone else. Indeed, health care not only makes the party's enslavement to Obama hatred thunderously obvious, it exposes Republican health-care policy as insufficiently developed even to qualify as a viable con.

According to a July poll for the Service Employees International Union by Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, only 36 percent of voters say they prefer to repeal Obamacare. Even a third of Republicans don't support repeal. Republican governors openly working to hinder the law might want to note another finding: 71 percent of voters express unfavorable feelings for a generic "Republican who, as an elected official, refused to help individuals and small businesses understand how best to deal with Obamacare and take advantage of its benefits," according to Garin's poll memo.

Such wariness of Republican methods and goals only underscores the need for caution as Republican leaders try to stem the backbenchers' enthusiasm for a government shutdown over funding Obamacare. "The electorate expects Congress to govern," Republican pollster David Winston told National Review's Robert Costa. "House Republicans are going to offer their health-care alternatives within that process."

In other words -- no shutdown.

Garin expects Republicans to go overboard attacking Obamacare in 2014 regardless. "I don't think the Republicans can help themselves from trying to make it a big issue, so there will be lots of ads, but they have badly overplayed their hand on it so I don't think it will be a winning issue for them," he wrote in an e-mail.

And Obamacare rolls on.

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    To contact the author on this story:
    Frank Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

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