GOP gets chance to run on ObamaCare

GOP gets chance to run on ObamaCare
© Getty

A sharp jump in ObamaCare premiums has created a political opportunity for Republican candidates just two weeks before Election Day.

GOP candidates have mostly avoided the topic of healthcare on the campaign trail, but that could change following the news this week that there will be an average 25 percent premium increase in ObamaCare plans. Officials also confirmed a major drop-off in insurer options, with more than 80 companies ditching the federal marketplace next year.  

ADVERTISEMENT
“This is ready-made advertising for Republican candidates to use nationwide,” said GOP communications strategist Ron Bonjean. “If you’re a Republican candidate, it would be malpractice not to talk about it, highlight it or advertise on it.”

While public opposition to the healthcare law remains strong, GOP lawmakers running for election this year have largely focused on local issues, in part to create distance from their controversial presidential nominee, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpManafort in Russian spotlight Russian bank owners sue BuzzFeed over publishing dossier Why global health investments are key ‘Making America Great’ MORE.

It’s also harder for many GOP candidates to use ObamaCare because most of their Democratic opponents didn’t vote for the law.

Among the Democrats running for Senate, only former Sen. Evan Bayh in Indiana, Rep. Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickWomen make little gains in new Congress McCain wins sixth Senate term In Arizona, history and voter registration data gives GOP edge MORE in Arizona and former Sen. Russ Feingold in Wisconsin were sitting members who voted for the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

But with Election Day rapidly approaching, Republicans up and down the ballot are pouncing on the double-digit premium hikes for ObamaCare, which includes far steeper increases in battleground states like Arizona, North Carolina and Illinois.

With nearly every state facing double-digit premium hikes or insurer exits — or both — GOP strategists say healthcare-focused attacks against Democrats may actually stick.

Trump is setting the pace, this week delivering some of his most detailed remarks to date about ObamaCare. Within 24 hours, he condemned ObamaCare in four separate public appearances.

“Repealing ObamaCare and stopping Hillary’s healthcare takeover is one of the single most important reasons that we must win on Nov. 8,” Trump said at a rally in Sanford, Fla., on Tuesday afternoon.

Vulnerable GOP incumbent Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteWeek ahead: Comey firing dominates Washington GOP senators pitch Merrick Garland for FBI director Kelly Ayotte among candidates to be FBI director: report MORE (N.H.) released an ad hitting her Democratic rival for embracing ObamaCare, while GOP Sens. Roy BluntRoy BluntSenators unveil infrastructure investment bill GOP nears total exasperation with Trump GOP senators pitch Merrick Garland for FBI director MORE (Mo.) and John McCainJohn McCainArmed Services chairman unveils .1B Asia-Pacific security bill Overnight Defense: Trump scolds NATO allies over spending | Flurry of leaks worries allies | Senators rip B Army 'debacle' | Lawmakers demand hearing on Saudi arms deal The case for protecting America's intelligence agency whistleblowers MORE (Ariz.) have released lengthy statements.

Before this week, McCain had been one of the few vulnerable GOP lawmakers actively campaigning against ObamaCare.

McCain began hitting his opponent, Kirkpatrick, for her vote for ObamaCare more than a year ago. He has devoted an entire section of his website to the law, proposing major reforms while keeping some of the law’s most popular provisions, like protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Matthew Benson, a GOP operative and former spokesman for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, said ObamaCare has been “the entirety” of McCain’s campaign since the start.

“This was a conscious decision by the McCain campaign. They knew that ObamaCare remains very unpopular in Arizona, but even in their wildest dreams, they couldn’t have asked for [these] rate increases at the same time that all the insurers are pulling out,” he said. “It’s been a devastating double whammy politically.”

McCain’s approach is a 180-degree turn from the candidate topping his party’s ticket.  

As the senator pitches specific changes to the law, Trump has largely stuck to the GOP’s “repeal and replace” strategy.

“A presidential candidate other than Donald Trump would have gone to great lengths to showcase the problems with ObamaCare, and made it [Democratic nominee] Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonClinton: ‘I don’t die’ despite the right’s ‘best efforts’ Clinton: Comey firing is ‘an effort to derail and bury’ Russia probe RNC slams Clinton speech as example of 'why she lost' MORE’s fault,” Bonjean said.

“Trump across the board has had a problem with connecting on issues, even discussing policy issues at lengths, without being distracted,” he said.

Even as Trump tried to highlight this week’s bad news for ObamaCare, he stumbled as he talked about his own employees’ treatment under the law.

Speaking at one of his resorts on Monday, Trump said “all” of the employees there were struggling under the law, implying that they were directly enrolled in the exchanges. But the general manager of that resort later clarified that “95 percent” of the workers had health insurance through their jobs, which means they would not be enrolled under the law at all.

Earlier this year, Trump was mocked for dodging reporters’ questions about how he’d replace ObamaCare, responding only that it would be “something terrific.”

In the weeks leading up to Monday’s announcement by the White House, one Republican group has worked hard to make ObamaCare part of its closing argument.

Americans for Prosperity, the grassroots group funded by the conservative mega-donors Charles and David Koch, has ramped up its ads, mailers and phone banking in the final countdown to Nov. 8.

Last week, the group announced a million-dollar digital ad buy to hit eight Democratic Senate candidates for their support of the law.

Chris Neefus, a spokesman for the group, said its case is particularly strong against Democratic candidates Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Katie McGinty in Pennsylvania, who have voiced “unequivocally” strong support for the law.

“The issue is headed back up on the radar again,” he said, adding that he’s “not sure why it wasn’t more of a core tenet” until now.

“It’s safe to say it’s been a nontraditional year, and that can be part of it,” he said. “But I think these numbers are going to, frankly, put issues at the back of this entire cycle.”