How Obamacare opposition changed the dynamics of the Republican campaign

Holly Bailey
The Ticket

METAIRIE, La.—It's a message Mitt Romney has articulated at nearly every campaign stop over the past few months, but in a meet-and-greet with voters here last Friday, the former Massachusetts took it one step further: He put his pledge on a sign.

Speaking in front of a massive placard that read "Repeal & Replace Obamacare," Romney reiterated his promise that "if elected president" he would on "day one" begin efforts to roll back President Obama's health care law, describing it as an "unfolding disaster" for the nation's economy.

"This presidency has been a failure, and the centerpiece of that failure is this piece of legislation back here, Obamacare," Romney said, motioning to the sign. "Most Americans want to get rid of it, and we're among those Americans. I want to get rid of it, too."

The roughly 300 people in the crowd erupted in wild cheers—but that was no surprise. The pledge to repeal Obama's health care law has become a guaranteed applause line on the Republican campaign trail over the last year. Perhaps no other legislation has inspired more passion or fury among Republican primary voters, and the 2012 contenders have played to that emotion continuously leading up to this week's Supreme Court hearings on the validity of the law.

"Obamacare is, in fact, a death knell for freedom," Rick Santorum declared at a campaign stop in Alabama earlier this month.

Newt Gingrich, who once supported a health care mandate while speaker of the House, has described the health care law as a "job killing, anti-small business bill" that is "the most dangerous legislation in ages." He has likened the law to a "centralized health-care dictatorship" and, like his rivals, pledged to repeal the legislation if elected to the White House.

[Related: Can Obamacare survive without the individual mandate?]

Meanwhile, Ron Paul has repeatedly described the law as an "unconstitutional monstrosity" and a "tragedy" that will negatively impact efforts to rein in the country's soaring budget deficits.

But for Romney, the issue is far more complicated. As Santorum and Gingrich have endlessly reminded voters on the stump and in campaign ads, the health care plan Romney signed into law as governor of Massachusetts bears more than a passing resemblance to Obama's law. Both laws require individuals to purchase health care insurance—a mandate—if they do not have coverage through their employers.

The ex-governor has repeatedly sought to distance his Massachusetts legislation from Obama's law—insisting he did what was right for his constituents at the time, and the White House should not have tried to enact a "one size fits all" approach across all states.

But Romney's message has been complicated, in part, because Obama and his advisers have repeatedly said the Massachusetts legislation was a "blueprint" for efforts on the federal level.

On Sunday, Obama senior adviser David Plouffe described Romney as the "godfather of the mandate"—a message that seemed in tune with Santorum's efforts to hammer Romney on the issue.

Seeking to cut into Romney's lead for the GOP nomination, Santorum has doubled down on his efforts to link Romney to Obama's health care legislation—mentioning similarities between the two bills at nearly every recent campaign stop.

[Related: Santorum uses Supreme Court health care hearing to knock Romney]

On Monday, he took his fight in front of the Supreme Court building, where he railed against Romney in front of the backdrop of a sign that read "Repeal ObamaRomneyCare."

"There's one candidate who is uniquely disqualified to make the case," Santorum declared, as Yahoo News's Chris Moody reported. "It's the reason I'm here and he's not. It's the reason I talk about Obamacare and its impact on the economy and fundamental freedom, and Mitt Romney doesn't: because he can't. Because he supported government-run health care as governor of Massachusetts."

In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer Monday, Romney dismissed Santorum's attacks, implying they are rooted in desperation. And he reiterated his pledge to repeal Obama's health care law, calling it an unconstitutional "power grab" by the federal government.

"I'll repeal Obamacare, and I'll stop it in its tracks on day one," Romney insisted.

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