Alex Sink was the first Democrat to be beaten by Obamacare. Sink lost to David Jolly, an uninspiring lobbyist-turned-candidate who ran a sloppy campaign, in a district that voted for President Obama. This is bellwether election showing voters are angry about Obamacare’s failures and will vote accordingly. This is a message playbook Republicans should stay focused on in the 2014 midterms, despite some party elders’ concerns that it’s drowning out a conservative economic agenda.
Though Americans are angry about the glacially paced economic recovery, bashing Obamacare is still the best political option for the Republican Party. Campaigns need a simple, repeatable message that reaches voters who are busy with everyday life. For 2014, an effective message is dredging up all the lies and half-truths about Obamacare, reminding voters that Democratic incumbents insisted: “if you like your health insurance, you can keep it.” Criticizing the Affordable Care Act appeals to both swing voters and the party faithful, and is more difficult for Democrats to criticize than other topical issues like the minimum wage, immigration, and tax reform.
Effective campaign issues are ones that most voters know and agree about. These allow a candidate to put himself on the right side of the issue and only alienate his opponent’s partisans. Obamacare is one of these issues. As National Journal reported, ten percent more voters oppose the Affordable Care Act than support it. There are more voters fearful about premium increases than there are voters hopeful for better coverage, and twenty percent more independents oppose Obamacare than support the law. Self-described moderate or conservative Democrats will be overrepresented in the Republican-leaning 2014 states, and one in five opposes Obamacare. If even a quarter of those voters swing Republican, it will have a major effect on the Senate races.
More voters do list the economy, rather than healthcare, as their most important issue, but those voters have widely different views about what should be done for the economy. Most voters don’t understand economic policy, and their eyes will glaze over when candidates start talking about the kind of economic ideas that fascinate Beltway policy wonks. Healthcare is simple – to voters, it’s all about Obamacare.
Republicans intellectuals and legislative leaders are right to emphasize the importance of an economic agenda, especially in case the GOP takes control of Washington again. But those ideas should be hashed out in think-tanks, not bare-knuckle electoral brawls. A competitive election is the worst place for a candidate to choose sides in the Republican debate on economic policy.
The Republican candidate who focuses on an economic agenda would have plenty of conservative ideas to pick from – expanding the child tax credit, simplifying and eliminating federal regulations, relocation subsidies, and countless more. However, that candidate would anger either moderate Republicans or conservative Republicans, depending on if they supported aggressive reductions in the size of government or more gradual, technocratic ideas. Meanwhile, the Democrat could air aggressive attack ads caricaturizing the programs in the worst light; eliminating regulations becomes letting grocery stores sell unsafe meat and tax reform becomes a giveaway to corporate fat cats. The Republican running on a sophisticated economic platform would run a campaign an intellectual could be proud of, and they would likely lose. A candidate who runs against Obamacare will likely win.
Some of the most one-sided election years were about one issue. In ’52, Republicans accused Democrats of “losing China” to the communists. In ’74, Democrats tied every Republican to the recently disgraced Richard Nixon. In ’06, Democrats made every Republican pay for Bush’s scandals and the Iraq War. In 2010 Republicans won on Obamacare, and in 2014, they can do it again.