By Robert Mann
From Baton Rouge to Washington, the verdict among political observers is that Sen. Mary Landrieu’s 2009 vote for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) doomed her re-election. Perhaps they’re right. But let’s imagine Landrieu had opposed and, therefore, killed the bill.
Had she stopped Obamacare, would Republicans be holding parades in her honor? Would the Democratic Party’s base, including black leaders, now celebrate her decision to abandon them on this monumental vote?
Of course not. Landrieu is not in trouble only because she supported Obamacare. If she had opposed the ACA, Republicans would still attack her with gusto, as would some leading Democrats. Politically, at least, she had no attractive alternative.
It’s not even clear that Obamacare will decide this race. In a special election last Tuesday for a vacant Florida congressional seat, Democrat Alex Sink lost narrowly to her Republican opponent. But a survey by Sink’s pollster suggests her opposition to repealing Obamacare actually helped her with independents who don’t want the law repealed. While an obsession with Obamacare motivates conservative voters, it appears Sink was primarily done in by low Democratic turnout.
Perhaps one lesson for Landrieu and other Democrats is that they must effectively and aggressively champion the health care law to the party’s base, not just meekly defend it.
The very the idea that Obamacare is broadly unpopular is wrong. While a recent CNN poll found that 57 percent of Americans oppose the law, a closer look reveals that 12 percent said they oppose Obamacare because the law “isn’t liberal enough.” Fifty-one percent like the law or want it strengthened. Another recent bipartisan national poll found that 54 percent of respondents want the law improved, not repealed, while 17 percent want to keep it as is.
Public opinion aside, it’s also becoming clear that Landrieu’s vote for Obamacare was a smart policy decision.