Republicans on Monday disputed forecasts that they would lose seats in 2018 because of their vote to partially repeal Obamacare.
Pointing to previously undisclosed voter data, Republican strategists and congressional aides said the American Health Care Act could be more popular in GOP House districts than assumed by previous polling.
Republican strategists said, further, that the nonpartisan prognosticators that shifted midterm House race ratings toward the Democrats following approval of the AHCA are misunderstanding the politics of health care.
"Only in Washington could what you repeatedly promised you'd do be considered a bad idea," said Matt Gorman, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP campaign arm.
Gorman is getting at the pressure Congressional Republicans face that Democrats were not under when they pursued health care reform eight years ago.
Then, the country was in economic free fall and Obama and Congressional Democrats, in the majority, chose to add major health reform in their agenda after the 2008 campaign concluded.
The Republicans have been promising to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's troubled healthcare law for the seven years since the Affordable Care was enacted.
Finally in control of government in Washington, failure to deliver could depress GOP turnout in 2018, creating as much as an electoral disaster for Republicans as moving ahead with an unpopular bill.
"Republicans had to pass something to satisfy the base, keep their promise and show they could govern," said a GOP operative who has been intimately involved in congressional campaigns over the past decade. "If the healthcare situation got worse under Obamacare — as we expect it to —they still control the government, so we're going to own the problem either way."
Based on previous nonpartisan and Democratic polling gauging support for Obamacare and the Republican alternative, its reasonable to determine that health care could be a problem for the GOP. But previously undisclosed data analytics measuring support for the AHCA, versus Obamacare, reveal that Republicans could be in better shape than conventional wisdom suggestion.
WPA Intelligence, the firm that handled polling and data for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz' presidential campaign, compiled analytics in several targeted House districts to gauge support for Obamacare, versus replacing the law with a market-driven health care reform reforms.
Only in 12 of the 25 most endangered GOP-held districts did the preference for Obamacare outpace opposition to Obamacare, according to data compiled in late March, after Republican leaders were forced to cancel a vote on the original version of the AHCA (the height of the unpopularity of the House GOP bill.)
WPA's data also found that voters in Georgia's 6th Congressional District also preferred repealing Obamacare and replacing it with conservative reform. The suburban Atlanta seat is the site of a hotly contested June 20 special election runoff, in which Republican Karen Handel supports the GOP bill, and Democrat Jon Ossoff opposes it.
"Immediately after the House voted to repeal significant portions of Obamacare, the typical media players began proclaiming that this would be a killer for Republican candidates in 2018," WPA writes in a memo shared with the Washington Examiner. "But WPA Intelligence's models of support for Obamacare and support for replacing it with a market-based solution that lowers costs tell a very different story."
Democrats need to win 24 seats to win the majority, and Republicans are defending 23 seats in which Hillary Clinton defeated President Trump last year. That's the target pool Democrats are focused on.
And so it was significant that The Cook Political Report adjusted ratings for 20 Republican-held districts, making a Democratic takeover more likely in each — based largely on Thursday's party line passage of the AHCA by just two votes.
Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, at the University of Virginia's Center For Politics, another top elections forecaster, is set to announce Thursday that it is shifting 15 House races toward the Democrats, also with the health care vote in mind.
With the midterms usually driven by the presidential approval numbers, Trump's vulnerability could add to Congressional Republicans' concerns. Nationally, his approval rating is sitting at 43 percent.
In polling over the weekend, GOP primary voters in the Missouri's suburban St. Louis 2nd Congressional District, solid conservative territory, gave Trump a lukewarm 71 percent approval rating, well below national numbers among Republicans that have generally been above 80 or 90 percent.
Republican voters in the district said they approved of the AHCA by a margin of 58 percent to 23 percent, with the rest saying they didn't know enough to render an opinion.
That might not be enough to keep the Democrats at bay, especially if the Republicans if an unpopular healthcare law fuels political headwinds. But like their Republican counterparts, even Democratic strategists aren't sold on the durability of healthcare as a political cudgel.
They relish the opportunity created by the GOP's pursuit of Obamacare repeal, but concede to anxiety about losing control of expectations for how many seats they can win based on one House vote 18 months before the general election.
"Passage of the Republican healthcare repeal bill was a defining moment for House Republicans, and the DCCC will hold them all accountable. Of course, we are taking nothing for granted and a lot can change over the next year and a half. There's still a lot of work to do," said Meredith Kelly, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.