By Bob Cusack - 10/30/10 10:00 AM EDT
Many of the House Democrats who cast the deciding votes on health reform are expected to lose on Election Day.
President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) needed every vote they could muster to push the bill through the House in March. The legislation passed 219-212, but for some Democrats, that vote could prove to be their political death.
Other Democrats who announced their support in the last few days before the March 21 vote are in tossup races, including Reps. Harry Mitchell (Ariz.), Paul Kanjorski (Pa.), Chris Carney (Pa.) and Bill Foster (Ill.).
It is unclear whether lawmakers will survive or fall solely based on their support of healthcare reform. But polling shows that Democrats have lost the message war this year on the landmark health law and in tight races, the yes votes could be the deciding factor.
“In the end, it’s one of these cruel situations where a yes vote hurts you and a no vote doesn’t help very much,” said Bruce Cain, the public policy director of the University of California Washington Center. “I think what’s going to happen is [voters are] going to punish Democrats who voted yes and not sufficiently reward those who voted no.”
While some Democrats who voted no, such as Rep. Chet Edwards (Texas), are heavy underdogs, it is clear that, in most cases, a no vote was the wise choice from a survival standpoint.
Of the 15 Democratic incumbents in the Cook Political Report’s “Lean Republican” column, 12 voted yes.
In a poll of battleground districts this fall conducted for The Hill, nearly one in four Democrats said they favored a repeal of the health law. A strong majority of independents in the survey said they want the new law rescinded.
Days before the final dramatic vote, Kirkpatrick issued a release claiming the bill would enhance the healthcare of children and seniors. Her constituents don’t agree. In The Hill’s poll, sixty-five percent of likely voters there back a repeal while only 27 percent oppose it.
Dahlkemper, meanwhile, was heavily lobbied by Pelosi and other Democratic leaders to endorse health reform. After an eleventh-hour deal was struck on abortion coverage, Dahlkemper and other Democrats who oppose abortion rights voted yes.
Months later, Dahlkemper is viewed as having little chance of securing a second term. Republican Mike Kelly is leading by 13 points, helped by 57 percent of respondents in her district who want the health law repealed, according to The Hill’s polling data.
Obama and Democratic leaders in the House pressed Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) to back the final measure, but he ultimately voted no. Altmire, a GOP target, is favored to win reelection and has repeatedly touted his independence from Democratic leaders in Washington.
Meanwhile, Halvorson announced her support a day before the vote. Democratic operatives have all but given up on retaining her seat.
Carney’s decision to vote yes surprised some on Capitol Hill and presented the GOP with an opening. Despite having a huge money advantage over Republican Tom Marino, the race is now up for grabs.
Many GOP candidates this year have made healthcare reform one of their top talking points. Republican leaders have vowed to “repeal and replace” the law should they win control of Congress.
There are some Democrats in battleground districts, such as Rep. John Yarmuth (Ky.), who voted for health reform and will likely win on Tuesday.
Still, a review of a timeline of the votes and polls indicate that the on-the-fence members who voted no have a much better chance to be reelected than the members who went from undecided to yes at the last moment.
Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), a perennial GOP target, irritated House Democratic leaders with his no vote. Barrow had to sweat out a primary challenge but is now in Cook’s “Likely Democratic” column.
Reps. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) and Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.) were late no votes, and are both in tough reelection races. Voting for health reform would likely have been a major handicap in their conservative-leaning districts.
Obama and Pelosi urged Rep. Michael McMahon (D-N.Y.) to back the bill, but he rejected it. That vote infuriated organized labor, but McMahon is in now in decent shape to win reelection in a district that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) captured in 2008.
After Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-Md.) backed climate-change legislation in 2009, campaign analysts said he would pay for that vote in a district Obama lost by 18 points.
His no vote on healthcare helped him, though. Kratovil’s campaign mantra of “independent leadership” could not have been employed had he embraced the health legislation.
Kratovil is trailing Republican Andy Harris by only three points, according to recent polling by The Hill. McCain won the district by nearly 20 points in 2008. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has invested heavily to save Kratovil this fall.
Michele Swers, an associate professor in the department of government at Georgetown University, believes some Democrats will benefit from their no votes.
She said, “If they sit in a district won by John McCain in 2008 or George W. Bush in 2004, the more conservative district you sit in, voting against the healthcare bill would work in your favor.”
But Curtis Gans disagrees. The director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University said the economy trumps everything.
“It depends on the Democrat and it depends on the race and the place of the race. Some Democrats will survive fine with their votes on healthcare and the stimulus. … But, by and large, healthcare is not the leading issue.”
Hannah Brenton contributed to this article