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Have Republicans Given Up On Attacking Obamacare? Doubtful.

It was inevitable that Republicans would be compelled to expand their attacks beyond Obamacare.


In a bit of dubious cherry-picking, a new Bloomberg piece concludes that the Affordable Care Act is losing its effectiveness as a political issue for Republicans. Working off this premise, Greg Sargent at the Washington Post reasons that this tells us Obamacare is “disappearing” as a major issue. And Paul Krugman followed up with his characteristic level-headed analysis.

How do we know the end is near-ish? Well, so many Americans are “benefiting from the law,” theorizes Heidi Przybyla, that political ads are simply not doing the job anymore. This news is somewhat unexpected – and unpersuasive  – when you consider a Kaiser Family Foundation poll recently found that only 15 percent of Americans believe Obamacare has directly helped them, while 28 percent say it has directly hurt them. (Fifty-six percent say it has had no effect on their lives.)

Somewhat more convincingly, Przybyla offers this bit of evidence: “Those seeking to unseat the U.S. Senate incumbent in North Carolina,” she writes, “have cut in half the portion of their top issue ads citing Obamacare, a sign that the party’s favorite attack against Democrats is losing its punch.” Then again, that’s quite an extrapolation, as well – especially when you consider that in her very own story Przybyla tells us that GOP groups have plans to re-focus on ACA as soon as premium increases for 2015 are announced. Like any issue, the political impact of Obamacare is hitched to events surrounding the law. An ebb is not a capitulation. And there will be more Obamacare events.

But even if there weren’t, consider that a quarter of all political ads running in North Carolina attack Obamacare specifically. This seems to suggest that it’s still a comparatively “major issue.” Or, let’s put it this way: Is there any other law in the United States that eats up more political space?

Google tells me there isn’t. When I use the search engine to wade through news stories regarding the various contested races mentioned in the Bloomberg piece, I find that Obamacare is ubiquitous among Republican candidates – in their stump speeches, their interviews, on their websites and in their statements. Not so much the Democrats. In Colorado, for example, Republican Cory Gardner is running an ad right now that focuses exclusively on Obamacare:

When our family’s healthcare plan was cancelled because of Obamacare last year, we felt firsthand the painful effects of Senator Udall’s support for Obamacare. Countless families have seen their premiums rise, lost access to their doctors, or lost their health insurances plans altogether — they have Senator Udall to thank.

As Gardner points out, 335,000 people had their plans cancelled in the state. A state where Quinnipiac found that 60 percent oppose ACA – with 68 percent of independents, 53 percent of women, and 61 percent of people under the age of 30.

So it seems like a major issue.

You know, perhaps focusing 50 percent of your ad dollars on ACA isn’t necessary, anyway. It’s rather amazing how little the electorate has moved on the issue. According to Kaiser, 53 percent disapprove of Obamacare. And among independents, 57 percent disapprove. Looks a lot like it’s looked for years. Whether voters are interested in repealing the law or not, there is no other issue with higher disapproval rates. In my lifetime, I can’t recall of any domestic law that’s been chewed over, litigated, debated, and used as a political hammer this intensely this long after passage.

As Chris Cillizza pointed out a few months back:

Buried in new New York Times/Kaiser polling on four Southern Senate races is this question: “Is it possible you would ever vote for a candidate who does not share your views on the 2010 health care law, or is this issue so important that you would not vote for a candidate who disagrees with you?”

North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas and Kentucky majorities said they would not. Ads or no ads, that seems like a “major” issue.

It was inevitable that Republicans would expand their attacks beyond Obamacare. With the economy, immigration or energy – and the array of more customized themes that state races typically focus on – there seems to be plenty of fodder for battleground candidates.  Yet, the idea that Obamacare’s potency as a Republicans issue is the verge of expiration is a lingering wish that never comes to pass. And if you’ve heard about the Obamacare retreat before, it’s because it’s nothing new. Politico led the way with a story in 2013, “GOP quietly backing away from Obamacare” and similar predictions of the pending surrender on ACA go back years. And yet here we are.

Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter.