Vulnerable Dems scramble to keep distance from ObamaCare

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Vulnerable Democrats are scrambling to find ways to stand apart from the White House on ObamaCare as the rollout of the high-profile law continues to struggle — and threatens their reelections.

A number of red state Democrats in the House and Senate are rushing to embrace legislation to amend ObamaCare, seeking to improve parts of the law that have led to public outrage, and insulate themselves from attacks as they head into election year in 2014.

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Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) have all supported different changes to the law in recent days.

Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.) and Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), both top GOP targets who voted against ObamaCare in the first place, have joined a GOP-led bill aimed at keeping people from losing their current insurance policies. Other House Democrats haven’t ruled out voting for similar legislation.

The widespread action is a sign that Democrats facing tough races are increasingly worried about the law’s adverse effects on their reelection chances.

“A lot of members are very concerned,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who has talked to several nervous members from swing districts.

If the White House doesn’t quickly offer an alternate solution, Connolly warned more Democrats would back Rep. Fred Upton’s (R-Mich.) legislation, which would grandfather in all plans that would be canceled by the law’s requirements.

“This is a swelling chorus,” Connolly said.

“The White House needs to pay attention to that, if they want to avoid a vote they don’t want on [the Upton bill] on Friday.”

Hagan has been especially vocal about the law’s struggles, calling for a full-blown investigation into why the healthcare exchange’s website hasn’t worked.

“These problems are simply unacceptable, and Americans deserve answers and swift solutions,” Hagan wrote in a letter obtained by The Hill earlier this week.

Republicans have been hammering Democrats for Obama-Care’s struggles, gleefully circulating videos of various candidates promising in past years that everyone would be able to keep their health policies if they so chose.

“For the next year [Democrats] will be forced to explain why they continue to support the train wreck that is Obama-Care,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said in an email to The Hill.

Polls show the healthcare law’s troubles have erased any political advantage Democrats gained during the government shutdown, when Democrats grew optimistic they could keep their 10-seat majority in the Senate and compete for the 17 seats needed to win back the House.

A Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday showed Democrats tied with Republicans in a generic congressional matchup — a loss of a 9-point lead Democrats held over the GOP on Oct. 1.

In the North Carolina Senate race, a new poll shows Hagan’s lead over potential 2014 Republican opponents has collapsed in the last two months.

Hagan’s lead against GOP front-runner Thom Tillis (R) is just 2 points in the survey released this week by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, down from a 15-point edge she held in September.

Other polling shows Obama is a heavy drag on fellow Democrats.  The president’s approval was 39 percent, the lowest of his presidency, in the Quinnipiac poll.

Even amid the ObamaCare website calamity, Landrieu said the healthcare law is “worth fighting for.” She added, “It’s important we don’t lose sight of how important this bill is for the American people.”

Begich told The Hill he was likely to support Landrieu’s effort to make sure no one had their health insurance policy canceled because of Obama-Care’s requirement that all plans offer a minimum level of coverage.

The Alaska senator said he’s “been frustrated from the beginning” about how Obama-Care has been implemented.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who won a hard-fought election last year, agreed red state Democrats up for reelection “can’t be happy about how the exchange came out.”

“If the exchange gets fixed and gets going, those folks that are out there hammering on the healthcare bill, come election night next year, they’re going to understand that there’s some real benefits to this law,” Tester said.

“If the exchange isn’t fixed, you’ve got problems.”

With the media spotlight stuck on ObamaCare’s woes, Democratic campaign officials tried Wednesday to change the subject.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began issuing ads attacking 31 House Republicans over the specter of another budget showdown — and possible government shutdown — in the new year.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the DCCC, also circulated a memo to House Democrats warning, “the worst may be yet to come.”

Israel blasted Republicans for “refusing to rule out another damaging government shutdown over defunding the Affordable Care Act and failing to produce a budget.”

Democratic strategists predict that the ObamaCare website will get fixed soon and that their party would be able to point to the law’s benefits and attack Republicans for supporting full-scale repeal.

“The other side of the argument is powerful,” said J.B. Poersch, the head of a Democratic super-PAC focused on Senate races.

“The pushback here is pretty simple: Republicans are all tied up with the health insurance companies, and the contributions prove it. And they’re not for anything. There’s no GOP plan or replacement.”

But other strategists warn that if ObamaCare doesn’t start working well — and soon — they could suffer a heavy toll in 2014.

“Democrats can sign onto different bills or push different things, but the message coming out of any particular candidate or campaign isn’t as important as what people are actually seeing, the facts on the ground,” said one senior Democratic strategist.

“Individual Democratic candidates can try to differentiate themselves, but past election results show that doesn’t work.”