GOP embraces single-payer health-care attack in California

Republicans are seizing on Democratic demands for a single-payer health-care system as an attack line in California, arguing that candidates backing the issue spearheaded by Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Health Care: States fight Trump on non-ObamaCare plans | Analysis looks into surprise medical bills | Left hits industry group working against single payer Overnight Energy: Trump Cabinet officials head west | Zinke says California fires are not 'a debate about climate change' | Perry tours North Dakota coal mine | EPA chief meets industry leaders in Iowa to discuss ethanol mandate Sen. Sanders blasts Zinke: Wildfires 'have everything to do with climate change' MORE (I-Vt.) are out of step with their districts.

“My opponent wants socialized medicine and government-run health care,” Rep. Mimi Walters (Calif.), a GOP incumbent and top Democratic target, told The Hill. “The district does not support it.”

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Walters represents one of seven GOP-held seats in California that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: FBI fires Strzok after anti-Trump tweets | Trump signs defense bill with cyber war policy | Google under scrutiny over location data | Sinclair's troubles may just be beginning | Tech to ease health data access | Netflix CFO to step down Signs grow that Mueller is zeroing in on Roger Stone Omarosa claims president called Trump Jr. a 'f--- up' for releasing Trump Tower emails MORE won in 2016 that Democrats are seeking to flip. If Republicans lose those seats, it would greatly increase the chances that the GOP loses the House majority.

Republicans say that Democratic candidates might have done well running on “Medicare for all” in crowded primaries, when they needed to move to the left. But they say that position will be a major drag in a general election decided by more centrist voters.

“The anger of the Democratic base against the president is pushing the party aggressively leftward,” said Michael Steel, a Republican strategist and former aide to Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerWomen poised to take charge in Dem majority Freedom Caucus ponders weakened future in minority Consultant to Virginia Senate candidate compared GOP establishment to 'house negro': report MORE (R-Ohio). “That’s going to leave them with a lot of candidates who aren’t a good fit for their districts.”

In the seven Clinton-won districts in California, at least five will have Democrats on the November ballot who support single-payer.

They include Josh Harder, who’s expected to challenge Rep. Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamPolice chief ‘disgusted’ after his son charged in attack of 71-year-old Sikh man Police make arrests in attack of 71-year-old Sikh man Sikh man attacked, told to go back to country while posting campaign signs supporting GOP lawmaker MORE (R) in the Central Valley; Katie Hill, who is running for Rep. Steve Knight’s (R) seat in northern Los Angeles County; Katie Porter, who’s challenging Walters in her Orange County district; and Mike Levin, who’s running to succeed retiring Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaDems eyeing smaller magic number for House majority Dems make big play for House in California Clinton maxes out to 19 Democratic House candidates MORE (R) in San Diego County.

Most of those races are considered to be toss-ups by nonpartisan election handicapper Cook Political Report, while Walters's seat is rated lean Republican. Cook moved Issa’s open-seat race from toss-up to lean Democrat days after the California primaries.

Democrats also hope to defeat Rep. Dana RohrabacherDana Tyrone RohrabacherTrump campaign aide socialized with alleged Russian agent during 2016 campaign: report Election Countdown: Trump jumps into Ohio special election fight | What to watch in Tennessee primaries | Koch network freezes out Republicans who crossed them | Dead heat in Texas, Nevada Senate races | How celebs are getting into the midterms Dems make big play for House in California MORE (R-Calif.), who has held his Orange County district for 15 terms. As of Friday afternoon, stem cell researcher Hans Keirstead was up 129 votes over businessman Harley Rouda for the second spot on the November ballot. Both Democrats back Medicare for all.

Porter, who defeated a more moderate Democrat in the primary, pushed back on the idea that her support for a single-payer health-care system will hurt her in November.

“The status quo in our health-care system is broken and people know,” said Porter, who was endorsed by Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenAvenatti on 2020 campaign: 'The truth is my policy issue' Democrats embracing socialism is dangerous for America Lawrence O'Donnell: Secret Service could ‘physically remove’ Trump from White House when he loses in 2020 MORE (D-Mass.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisDemocrats embracing socialism is dangerous for America Senate Judiciary announces Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing Fearing ‘blue wave,’ drug, insurance companies build single-payer defense MORE (D-Calif.). “Washington does not need more can’t-do Democrats.”

Democrats generally think the issue of health care will help them in November.

They are emphasizing the GOP’s opposition to ObamaCare, arguing efforts by President TrumpDonald John TrumpAl Gore: Trump has had 'less of an impact on environment so far than I feared' Trump claims tapes of him saying the 'n-word' don't exist Trump wanted to require staffers to get permission before writing books: report MORE and his party to repeal and replace the law has led to rising premiums and higher health-care costs for Americans.

Every California Republican in the House voted to repeal ObamaCare.

“If Republicans wage this election on health care, that’s an argument that Democrats win,” said Mac Zilber, a Democratic strategist in California.

“[Medicare for all favorability] might not be as clean and as pretty as it looks right now, but ultimately if you’re about expanding access versus taking away access, I think that’s exactly the battlefield that Democrats want to be on,” he added.

But not everyone is so certain the issue will be such a winner.

Rob Pyers, research director at California Target Book, which does nonpartisan political analysis in the state, noted that the California House districts that Democrats are seeking to take back from the GOP are all “somewhat conservative” and that Sanders won none of them during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. 

“I wouldn't be surprised to see the [National Republican Congressional Committee] and Mimi Walters pummeling Porter on the airwaves over [single-payer] and a host of her other positions,” he said, referring to the House Republicans’ campaign arm. “In a few months, I'm guessing voters there will be confused as to whether Mimi Walters is running against Porter or Elizabeth Warren.”

Walters brushes off attacks on her vote to repeal ObamaCare.

“I'm not worried about her,” she said of Porter.

Rohrabacher, who was first elected at the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency and has served through a changing political culture in his state, sounded a similar note.

“That district isn’t going to support any Democratic candidates that just mouth the liberal left line,” he told The Hill.

He said he had no regrets on his ObamaCare repeal vote.

“My votes reflect what I think is good for America and consistent with my philosophy and it has nothing to do with electability,” he said. 

House Republicans have signaled that they plan to take Democrats to task over Medicare for all.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership, sent press releases following the California primaries targeting Porter's and Hill’s stances on single-payer.

And Republicans quickly seized on House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDem mega-donor to spend M on GOTV campaign ahead of midterms The Hill's Morning Report — Trump heads to New York to shore-up GOP districts Pelosi claims NBC is trying to 'undermine' her potential Speaker bid MORE’s (D-Calif.) statement from a Thursday press conference that if Democrats retake the House, proposals like Medicare for all should be “evaluated.”

A Democratic strategist familiar with the California races said polling conducted in the swing districts shows that Medicare for all is popular, but acknowledged a GOP messaging campaign could change things.

“It does really well right now, but will that change with millions of dollars of spending in a concerted effort by Republicans to make people feel like Medicare for all means trillions of dollars in tax increases?” the strategist said.

“I don’t think we’ve yet seen the Republican media apparatus really make a concerted effort to demonize Medicare for all the way they did with ObamaCare and when that happens, I think the public opinion is going to change.”