On the campaign trail: GOP plays down the Obamacare angle

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Up until a few weeks ago, the Republican Party had planned to make its opposition to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) the centerpiece of its campaigns against Democratic candidates in the 2014 elections.

Now, the attacks on Obamacare and even any references to the health insurance program are being toned down considerably.

Some survey numbers released on Monday by the Republican-friendly polling firm Rasmussen may provide a clue to the sudden de-emphasis of Obamacare as a flashpoint in campaign attacks.

In a nationwide survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted Aug. 16-17, Rasmussen found that nearly one in every five of those surveyed had purchased health insurance coverage through one of the insurance exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act.

Rasmussen noted:

Nearly half of voters remain unaware whether their state has established a health insurance exchange under the new national health care law, but the number who are buying health insurance through one of these exchanges is steadily increasing.

Nineteen percent (19%) of Likely U.S. Voters now say they or a member of their immediate family has bought health insurance though a new health care exchange . . . That’s up from 15% last month and up from just four percent last November after the problem-plagued launch of the federally-operated exchange and state-run exchanges around the country.

Even in Georgia, where elected officials like Gov. Nathan Deal and Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens are adamantly opposed to Obamacare, more than 316,000 Georgians still signed up for health coverage through the insurance exchange (which is operated by the federal government because Deal declined to set up a state-administered exchange).

In other words, with a large and growing percentage of the population receiving health insurance through some aspect or other of the Affordable Care Act, it’s becoming more difficult politically to keep calling for the repeal or abolition of the program.

In North Carolina, where Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan is battling for another term against state Rep. Thom Tillis, the GOP speaker of the North Carolina House, Republicans have reduced the number of issue ads that attack Obamacare.

Heidi Przybyla of Bloomberg News reported:

The shift — also taking place in competitive states such as Arkansas and Louisiana — shows Republicans are easing off their strategy of criticizing Democrats over the Affordable Care Act now that many Americans are benefiting from the law and the measure is unlikely to be repealed.

“The Republican Party is realizing you can’t really hang your hat on it,” said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University. “It just isn’t the kind of issue it was.”

The party had been counting on anti-Obamacare sentiment to spur Republican turnout in its quest for a U.S. Senate majority, just as the issue did when Republicans took the House in 2010.

Now, Republicans are seeking a new winning formula for an election less than three months away. Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who has advised U.S. Senate candidates including Marco Rubio of Florida, said the party is pausing to reframe the ads by tying Obamacare to the economy and jobs, the top concerns for most Americans.

“Obamacare will not be the most important issue,” and Republicans will have to “target people very directly” with their messages, said Ayres, who co-wrote a memo this month for outside spending groups such as Crossroads GPS and the American Action Network. The memo came after Ayres tested 57 possible avenues of attack.

The Romney parallel

Michelle Nunn, who’s been trailing Republican nominee David Perdue in recent Senate race polls, is using the same strategy Democrats used in the 2012 presidential race against Mitt Romney: attacking Perdue’s record as a corporate CEO.

Nunn’s latest TV spot, which describes the impact of Perdue’s tenure as head of the North Carolina textile firm Pillowtex, is framed and scripted very similarly to a controversial anti-Romney commercial that was produced by the Priorities USA PAC in 2012.

As in that Romney commercial, Nunn’s TV spot has former employees get in front of the camera and allege that the former head of their company eliminated their jobs after shutting down the business.

The script:

Cynthia Hanes: It was a mill town ever since I can remember.

Ronnie Grimes: Everything in Kannapolis basically survived off of the mill.

Carolyn Helms: David Perdue came in, in 2002, to take over as President of Pillowtex. There was a lot of promise when he came in, and then, within eight months, he was gone.

Delores Gambrell: He walked away, with his $1.7 million and didn’t care about if we had a dollar in our pockets.

Brenda Miller: When Pillowtex closed down, it was pretty much devastating. I don’t think David Perdue understands what happens to the people. They were running as fast as they could with as much money as they could get out of the company and just pretty much left us there hanging.

Delores Gambrell: David Perdue looks out for himself.

Cynthia Hanes: All we were was people to make money off our backs.

Phyllis Grimes: He left all of us sitting there holding the bag with nothing in it.

Nunn’s TV spot doesn’t have quite as dramatic a close as the anti-Romney commercial by Priorities USA – in that one, a former steelworker charged that his wife died of cancer because she lost her health insurance when her company was shut down. But the tone and the feel of the two commercials are very similar.

Senate forum set for Macon

Nunn and Perdue will participate in a candidate forum Thursday that is part of the program for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s annual congressional luncheon at the Macon Marriott City Center.

John Pruitt, the retired WSB TV news personality, will moderate the event, which will be jointly hosted by the Georgia Chamber, the Georgia Association of Broadcasters and the Georgia News Network.

Georgia is not in Christie’s Top Six

The Republican Governors Association (RGA) has already spent more than $1.5 million to support Gov. Nathan Deal by running attack ads against his opponent, state Sen. Jason Carter, and the organization is expected to spend more on Deal’s behalf over the next two months.

Even with that amount of money being spent on it, the Georgia governor’s election still isn’t considered one of the top six races this year for the RGA and its current chairman, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Matt Arco of the Newark Star-Ledger reports that the six most important governor’s races for Christie are the ones in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Maine and Wisconsin.

Georgia’s race for the governor did not make the cut.

© 2014 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Chris Christie , corporate CEOs , David Perdue , health insurance exchanges , Jason Carter , Michelle Nunn , Mitt Romney , Nathan Deal , Obamacare , rasmussen