ObamaCare vanishes from campaign airwaves

ObamaCare vanishes from campaign airwaves
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ObamaCare appears to have lost its potency on the campaign trail.

Senate Republican candidates have featured the healthcare law in just 12 percent of their ads this year, according to data by Wesleyan University. That’s about half as many anti-ObamaCare ads by Republicans from the same period in 2014.

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It's an even sharper shift from the elections in 2010 and 2012, when Republicans campaigned aggressively on the healthcare law and wiped away the Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress. Leading up to the GOP’s 2010 wave election, ObamaCare made up a full one-third of advertising, according to the Wesleyan data. 

Still, ObamaCare has faced a flurry negative attention this week after the White House confirmed on Monday that customers would see an average of 25 percent premium hike across the country. Officials also said that 1 in 5 people enrolled in ObamaCare would have only a single insurer to choose from. 

After the announcement, Chris Neefus, a spokesman for the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, declared: “The issue is headed back up on the radar again.” GOP strategist Ron Bonjean said it would be “malpractice” for Republican candidates not to talk about the healthcare law. 

But only a handful of vulnerable Republicans, such as Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (N.H.) and Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial McConnell keeps press in check as impeachment trial starts What to watch for as Senate organizes impeachment on day one MORE (Mo.), have pounced on the ObamaCare news. Presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Collins breaks with GOP on attempt to change impeachment rules resolution Roberts admonishes House managers, Trump lawyers after heated exchange MORE mentioned it only a few times in his speeches this week. The Republican National Committee is running an online-only ad trying to rebrand the healthcare law as “Hillarycare.” 

The GOP’s retreat from anti-ObamaCare ads doesn’t mean the law is popular; in fact, opposition remains nearly as high as it was when the law passed in 2010.

Forty-five percent of Americans say they have an unfavorable view of the law, compared with 45 percent of Americans with a favorable view, according to an October poll by Kaiser Family Foundation.

One of the biggest changes since 2014 is that the entirety of the law has gone into effect. 

“It was a much bigger issue in the first Obama election because nothing had happened, nobody had gotten anything yet,” said Joe Antos, a healthcare policy expert for the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

“It’s not that there isn’t plenty of opposition to the main aspects of the [Affordable Care Act], but at this point, it’s a not real winning issue if you’re running for reelection as a Republican,” he added.

As President Obama mentions in most of his speeches, 20 million people have gained coverage under the law. The vast majority of those new customers are getting financial help from the federal government to buy plans, and surveys show that most people like and use their coverage. 

When Democrats talk about the healthcare law, they like to hammer the GOP as lacking an alternative. 

“I’ve never fully understood why anybody would run on a platform of people being uninsured rather than insured,” Obama said at a college in Florida last week ahead of this year’s sign-up period for ObamaCare.

Other Republican strategists say it’s harder to run attack ads against a policy with one man’s name on it.    

“It was something uniquely tied to President Obama. It even has his name in it,” said Ryan Williams, who served as spokesman for former Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

“It’s most effective when Obama was the primary target,” he said.

Williams agreed that ObamaCare is a much less potent line of attack this year than in previous elections. But he said this week’s headlines would almost certainly mean more ads on the law would appear in the final days of the campaign. 

Democrats are also talking about ObamaCare far less than they did when the law was first passed and before it went into effect. 

The healthcare law is mentioned in only 1.3 percent of Democratic Senate ads this year, compared to 12 percent of the party’s Senate ads in 2010, according to Wesleyan.

Part of that drop-off is because most of the Democrats running weren’t in Congress when the law was passed. Only Rep. Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickArizona Democrat to get treatment for alcohol dependence after suffering fall House holds moment of silence to mark anniversary of 2011 Tucson shooting Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings MORE (Ariz.) and former Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Russ Feingold (Wis.) were sitting members who voted for the Affordable Care Act in 2010. 

When the law passed, Democrats had hoped that ObamaCare would eventually become a political winner for their party. 

Instead, Democrats faced a near-meltdown of the website for the federal marketplace, HealthCare.gov, as well as stories about people who were forced to switch plans after theirs were canceled.

More recently, Democrats have dealt with an enrollment tally that's about half as high as initially expected, as well as the exit of high-profile insurers like UnitedHealthCare and Aetna. In the last week alone, higher premium costs and fewer insurance options have made headlines nationally.  

Some Democrats, including presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGabbard knocks Clinton's jab at Sanders: 'This isn't high school' Hill.TV's Krystal Ball rips op-ed comparing Sanders supporters to those of Trump Hillary Clinton responds to backlash: 'I will do whatever I can to support our nominee' MORE, are trying to take the conversation beyond ObamaCare to the rising costs of prescription drugs and out-of-pocket costs. 

A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation released this week found that high drug prices, not ObamaCare, are the public’s top healthcare priority. 

Nearly three-quarters of the public says drug costs should be a top healthcare priority for the next president and Congress, compared to 37 percent of respondents who said repealing ObamaCare should be a top healthcare priority.

The same poll found the public remains divided on what to do about ObamaCare: Thirty-one percent want to expand it, 18 percent say move forward with it as it is, 9 percent want to scale it back and 32 percent say repeal it entirely.