Five Democrats to watch on healthcare

The greatest parlor game in Washington is being played as prognosticators across the city tally their whip counts on the looming healthcare bill.

And if the early converts are any indication, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s (NRCC) recruiting has plenty to do with scaring past supporters into voting no this time around.

ADVERTISEMENT
Reps. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) both sound like they will flip their votes to no after seeing strong challenges emerge in recent months. And with so much recruiting going on between that first vote in November and now, plenty of other members are in similar spots.

The Ballot Box looks at five members with significant political motivations who will determine whether the bill lives or dies:

-Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) — Ellsworth probably didn’t think he would be a Senate candidate when he cast his yes vote in November. What people tend to forget is that Ellsworth was not only a supporter of the Stupak Amendment, but a key player in getting it inserted into the bill. What’s more, Ellsworth at the time told a local paper, “I will not support a bill that I believe would result in federal tax dollars being used to pay for abortions.” If there’s no Stupak language in the coming bill, Ellsworth will be torn between living up to those words and pleasing the Democratic leaders who have anointed him as their Senate candidate.

-Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) — Altmire is one of the notable “no” votes who appears very open to saying yes this time. He went on “Fox News Sunday” over the weekend and said, “My constituents put me in Washington to cast tough votes on their behalf. I'm not afraid to take the vote.” Altmire also recently drew a challenge from former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, so a switch of his vote would show considerable success on the part of Democratic leaders. They also need to snatch some converts of their own, what with Arcuri, Donnelly and Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) sounding like “no” votes.

-Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.) — Carney represents one of the most conservative districts held by an undecided member. He voted yes last time, but like Altmire, he drew a challenge from a former U.S. attorney recently, with Tom Marino jumping into the race. Carney has also been on the receiving end of some strongly worded ads that suggest he could pay a price if he’s the deciding vote. By the same token, if he bolts, Democratic leaders have problems.

-Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.) — Owens assumed office just as the original healthcare bill was coming to the floor, and he took a lot of flak for using one of his first votes to side with his party on such a divisive measure. If he comes back and votes no, that says a lot about the backlash he experienced in November. He’s also got to be looking at his upstate neighbor, Arcuri, and wondering if Arcuri knows something he doesn’t. Not to mention the fact that Doug Hoffman signed up last week for a rematch of their 2008 special election.

-Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) — Pomeroy has the distinction of having voted against the first bill in committee and then for it on the House floor. If there’s any sign of a conflicted member, that’s it. On top of all that, Pomeroy faces what looks like his first tough reelection since the early 2000s, as state Rep. Rick Berg and state Insurance Commissioner Kevin Cramer have both launched campaigns. In other words, he’s in a different world from that of four months ago, and he may feel the need to return to his Blue Dog roots.

— A.B.

Tea Party candidate offers Reid hope

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) filed his reelection paperwork Monday, lifting the curtain on what is expected to be one of the hardest-fought Senate races of 2010.

Reporters immediately asked him the question on everyone’s mind: Does he actually think he can win? “I wouldn't be running if I didn't,” said Reid, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Reid pointed to a recent poll published by the paper that shows him leading his potential Republican rivals, albeit with a caveat.

The poll for the Review-Journal showed that if the election were held now and a Tea Party candidate were in the race, Reid would get 36 percent of the vote, the GOP nominee would get 32 percent and the Tea Party candidate 18 percent.

On March 2, businessman Jon Scott Ashjian declared himself a Senate candidate running under the banner of the Tea Party of Nevada. The poll for a three-way race "shows me winning the election," Reid told reporters with a grin.

Republicans are trying to discourage Ashjian from running. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said this week: “Third-party races are not good.”

Meanwhile, it looks as though the robust Republican field is set — the filing deadline is March 12 for the June 8 primary.

Reid is famous for pulling out close wins, and accordingly, he’s hired a team of campaign professionals familiar with winning tight races.

Reid's campaign manager is Brandon Hall, who famously helped Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) upset then-Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) in 2008. Moreover, Kelly Steele has been brought on as the communications director. Steele recently worked as the spokesman for the Washington State Democratic Party, where he helped Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) to victory over challenger Dino Rossi (R).

Reid’s campaign has also retained Nevada’s top Democratic and Republican strategists. According to a campaign official, he’s hired Democratic strategist Billy Vassiliadis — famous for crafting the Las Vegas slogan "What happens here stays here" — and Republican strategist Sig Rogich, who raised money for George W. Bush and John McCain.

— S.J.M.