Shutting Down the Government Over Obamacare Is the New Obamacare

Alex Seitz-Wald
October 16, 2013

On the campaign trail back in 2010, Democrats from battleground districts and states twisted themselves into rhetorical knots to try to distance themselves from Obamacare, an unpopular law that Republicans would use as a raft to ride into the majority in November. "It's basically been radio—and television—silence. Even as Republicans have attacked Democrats on the bill, Democrats haven't seen fit to fight back—preferring to change the subject," The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza wrote at the time.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., who barely hung onto his seat that year, voted for the Affordable Care Act, but later said he would have preferred a more "incremental" approach to health care reform. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., made a full flip-flop, going from "I'd be for it" to "I would not have supported that." Meanwhile, Blue Dogs like former Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., touted their vote against the law and hoped it would insulate them from party backlash.

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Spoiler alert: It didn't work. Democrats lost 63 seats and the Blue Dogs were nearly wiped out.

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Now, some Republicans are facing the inverse problem. While the more ideological wing of the party forced a confrontation over Obamacare that led to the first government shutdown in 17 years, GOP candidates in more competitive districts want nothing to do with it, even as they feel pressured from the right to avoid disowning the Ted Cruz wing all together. So they're opting for a duck-and-cover approach instead.

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It's happening in southern Arizona, where Republican candidate Martha McSally "wouldn't take a stand [on the shutdown] despite multiple requests for her position from The Republic, Arizona Daily Star, Green Valley News/Sahuarita Sun and KVOI-AM (1030)," as the Arizona Republicreported this month. "She would say only that the shutdown is 'a failure of leadership,' " the paper's Rebekah Sanders added.

In New Hampshire's 1st District, Republican Dan Innis, who is primarying two-term Rep. Frank Guinta, wouldn't say if he would have supported the GOP's effort to defund Obamacare by linking it to a government shutdown fight. "Obamacare is a disastrous, big-government takeover of the health care system. While I support repealing Obamacare, I think we've got to be realistic," he told the AP.

In upstate New York, Republican congressional candidate Elise Stefanik used her first policy statement of the campaign to criticize incumbent Democratic Rep. Bill Owens for voting against the series of Republican bills to fund certain parts of the government while leaving the rest closed. "But she repeatedly would not say whether she would have voted for the same four bills, if she was in Congress," the Glens Falls Post-Starreported.

And across the country in California, Republican challenger Brian Nestande bemoaned the fiscal fight in Washington, but "declined to say if he would have joined Republicans who lobbied House Speaker John Boehner to take a hard line on Obamacare," according to the Riverside Press Enterprise.

Meanwhile, in the biggest race of the year, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli has been feeling the heat. He said he's "very disappointed" with "both parties in Congress," adding that a shutdown is "an unacceptable outcome for Virginia."

There's no doubt the shutdown has been harmful to the GOP brand, with the party's disapproval ratings shooting up 9 points since the shutdown, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, and it seems the party's candidates are worried that the damage will extend beyond Republicans already in Congress. It's still way too early to say how much the shutdown will impact the 2014 election, but it seems it's already creeping in.

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