Whats a bigger political loser: Obamacare or the tea party? We in North Carolina are about to find out.
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan surfed Barack Obamas popularity into office in 2008, but six years later she might be sucked out on a riptide of his unpopularity or at least his health care laws unpopularity.
With Obama floundering and his approval ratings plummeting over Obamacares rollout, Hagan finds herself among a handful of vulnerable Democratic senators facing reelection who are being dragged down with him.
Republicans last week circulated videos in which Hagan made the same now-discredited promise Obama did. I think the key here is, if youve got health insurance in our country, you keep it, Hagan tells a crowd in one of the videos. Whatever we do, I dont want to dismantle any system where people are happy with the coverage that they have. Actually, a lot of people are happy and so I think weve got to be sure that that stays in place.
The conservative group Americans for Prosperity is spending $1.7 million on TV ads in North Carolina hitting Hagan for her vote for Obamacare. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank eviscerated the senator last week after she hemmed and hawed her way through a conference call she arranged to talk about problems with the laws rollout.
Voters are dropping their support for Hagan like a health insurer dropping a bad risk. A new survey from Public Policy Polling in Raleigh shows Hagan in a dead heat with every potential Republican opponent, including ones most voters have never heard of. The percentage of respondents who disapprove of Hagans performance has jumped from 39 percent to 49 percent since September.
Nearly 70 percent said the Obamacare rollout has been unsuccessful, which explains why Hagan works so hard to distance herself from it. In one press release last week, she said Obamas move to let people keep their plans for an additional year does not go far enough. She added: I will continue to hold the Administration and insurance companies accountable.
Obama on Thursday tried to protect Hagan and other Democrats on the 2014 ballot. They were making representations based on what I told them and what this White House and our administrative staff told them, and so its not on them, its on us, he said.
But ignorance of the law is no excuse, as they say, especially when youre the one voting for the law.
This all marks a sudden turnaround for Hagan, who until now has enjoyed a double-digit lead over her potential Republican opponents. She built that in part on the backs of an unpopular Republican legislature led by one of her challengers, Speaker Thom Tillis.
And thats where the tea party comes in. Election Day is almost a year away, an eternity. Obamacare might or might not be repaired by then, but Hagan will be using her $6 million (and growing) war chest to remind voters of their distaste for Tillis General Assembly and Republicans in Congress.
Virginias elections this month could be instructive. Virginia, like North Carolina, is a purple state. Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a flawed candidate, won the governors race there because his Republican opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, was seen as too far right.
Last month, Republican Senate candidates Tillis, Greg Brannon and Mark Harris all adopted the tea party stance of opposing the deal that ended the government shutdown and averted a default on Americas debt.
If N.C. Republicans nominate a tea party candidate, or if Hagan can portray Tillis as one, next falls campaign becomes a death match pitting Obamacare versus the tea party. Darth Vader versus Voldemort in the minds of most voters.
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter: @tbatten1.
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