House Democrats can use the Medicare issue to their advantage even in districts without large senior populations, according to a top party strategist

“I don’t think that you look at it just by age. This is a huge issue for females that deal with their parents’ and in-laws’ health issues. It also sends signals to people about Republican priorities,” said Democratic pollster John Anzalone.

Democrats have been mulling over the 2012 map to find districts where they can replicate their messaging on Medicare in the wake of their victory in the special election in New York’s 26th district. The party’s nominee, Kathy Hochul, ended up with a 56 percent approval rating from those over 55, according to the last Siena College poll conducted before the May 24 vote. Republican nominee Jane Corwin had a 40 percent approval rating with that same age group.

Seniors favored Republicans by a large margin in the 2010 midterms, according to exit polling.

ADVERTISEMENT
But Democratic strategists say those approval numbers from New York show how effective their messaging was on Medicare, and could mean the party will bring seniors back into the fold in 2012. The party needs a net gain of 24 seats to reclaim the majority, and strategists won't have to look very hard to find a GOP-controlled seat representing a high percentage of seniors. Republicans now hold 99 of the 150 House districts with the highest proportion of elderly residents, according to a recent analysis by the National Journal.

During the special-election race, Democrats and their allies accused Corwin of wanting to cut benefits for seniors because of her support for Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOn The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Stopping the next insurrection Former Sen. Bob Dole dies at 98 MORE’s (R-Wis.) budget, which converts Medicare to a type of voucher system for those currently under 55.

“We always felt that the Ryan budget and the Medicare contrast was an issue that was going to get Democrats back into the game,” said Anzalone. “Now we have something to talk about, we have a real contrast.”

That messaging can be deployed against most of the vulnerable Republicans because freshman Rep. David McKinleyDavid Bennett McKinleyFour states to feature primaries with two incumbents in 2022 West Virginia lawmaker slams GOP colleague over support for infrastructure law McBath to run in neighboring district after GOP redrew lines MORE (R-W.Va.) was the only endangered incumbent to vote against it in the House. 

There’s anecdotal evidence to support widespread opposition to the GOP’s Medicare plan. 

Several Republican House freshmen faced hostile crowds at town hall-style events back in their districts during the May recess. 

During an event in Vancouver, Wash., in mid-May, Rep. Jaime Herrera BeutlerJaime Lynn Herrera BeutlerThe fates of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump Pelosi: McCarthy has 'obligation' to help Jan. 6 investigation West Virginia lawmaker slams GOP colleague over support for infrastructure law MORE (R-Wash.) faced boos, catcalls and shouts of “liar” from the crowd as she insisted the Republican budget “protects Medicare,” according to The Columbian. Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) needed to raise his voice over an angry crowd during a Boulder City event on Medicare on May 18, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. And Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) was criticized by seniors at an event in Cambridge for showing "inaccurate" PowerPoint slides about Medicare's impact on the federal debt, according to The Associated Press. 

Some Republicans say it will be easy for Democrats to overplay their hand on the Medicare issue. “Voters in older states are sensitive to issue like Medicare,” said Mark Blankenship, a conservative pollster based in West Virginia. “It’s an issue that will influence voter behavior. It’s a big deal.”

Blankenship added that a messaging strategy based on “Mediscare” — frightening seniors about the GOP’s reform plan — would be ineffective. “This is one of those issues that voters pay a great deal of attention to,” he said. “Voters are just more aware of the particulars.”