Republican campaign strategists view the troubled Obamacare as unqualified electoral gold.
This conviction is something of a curiosity for some Democrats and liberal activists, who wonder if Republicans truly believe Americans' first year under the new health care law will boost the GOP on Election Day 2014 the same way fears of the then just-passed law helped create a Republican wave on Election Day 2010.
After all, President Obama was re-elected two years later, Democrats gained congressional seats and voters are sure to appreciate Obamacare's benefits once the law rebounds from early setbacks and becomes ingrained in American life.
But in conversations with the Washington Examiner, about a half-dozen Republican political strategists could hardly contain their optimism when asked to discuss how Obamacare and its rollout would affect the 2014 elections. Their bullishness is tempered somewhat by the unpredictable 10 months that stand between the November elections and today’s cratering poll numbers for Obama and his signature health care overhaul.
But overall, Republicans are sanguine. They are convinced that Obamacare’s problems will persist deep into the new year and that the law’s troubled implementation since October might have permanently poisoned the president’s relationship with voters and done irreparable damage to his personal Image.
“I don't think that Americans have experienced what's bad about the Affordable Care Act; I think that's yet to come,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who is hoping problems with the health care law will help defeat his colleague from North Carolina, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, on the way to a GOP takeover of the Senate.
It's common for a party targeting congressional seats to bluster about its prospects. The GOP crowing that Obamacare's woes will improve the Republican Party's prospects for growing its House majority and flipping the Senate would almost certainly be a component of any political strategy for the 2014 midterms, seen as way to boost fundraising and grassroots involvement.
However, many Republicans include few of the usual qualifiers when discussing their confidence that voters' reaction to Obamacare will fuel GOP electoral gains. This mid-election cycle enthusiasm is anchored in recent polling and other factors, Republican strategists and pollsters say. Real Clear Politics recently listed Obama's approval rate at 42.4 percent and approval of his health care law even lower, at 37.8 percent.
“It’s not just about the rollout,” Republican pollster Brock McCleary said. “The electoral potency can’t be underestimated.”
Most encouraging for Republicans is the dent Obamacare's problems put in the president's personal credibility after Americans learned that he broke his promise to allow people who liked their existing insurance to keep it. Republicans say it's the first time voters not only soured on an Obama policy, but on the president personally. They question Obama's ability to fully recover.
Republicans also believe they will benefit from the fact that millions of Americans have directly experienced problems with Obamacare, such that GOP warnings about the new system's failings are no longer theoretical. The nation's first months under Obamacare were widely plagued by policy cancelations, higher premiums and deductibles, and fewer choices of doctors and hospitals.
That direct public experience, Republicans said, is likely to get worse, making it that much easier for the GOP to prosecute its case against Democrats in the midterm elections.
Even some Democrats concede that Obamacare could make 2014 treacherous for them.
“I think it's going to come down to the implementation,” Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a mid-December interview. “Obviously, there will be a political argument and a political dimension, but the most important thing is the implementation.”