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GOP in retreat on ObamaCare

Republicans are retreating from calls to repeal ObamaCare ahead of this year’s midterm elections.

Less than a year after the GOP gave up on its legislative effort to repeal the law, Democrats are going on offense on this issue, attacking Republicans for their votes as they hope to retake the House majority.

Antonio Delgado, a Democrat running for Rep. John FasoJohn James FasoDemocratic candidate denounces attack ads on rap career Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel Midterms in 2018 become most expensive in history MORE’s (R-N.Y.) seat, is running an ad saying Faso broke a promise to protect people with pre-existing conditions.

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Faso voted for the House’s repeal bill in 2017. He says his message on ObamaCare is “keep what works, fix what doesn't.”

The Cook Political Report rates the race a toss-up.

Rep. Tom MacArthurThomas (Tom) Charles MacArthurGOP Rep to top-ranking Dem who accused him of bigotry: 'Apologize to my children' Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump officials move to require drug prices in TV ads | 4,000 more people lose Medicaid in Arkansas | New top official for Medicaid Dems announce third-quarter fundraising bonanza MORE, a New Jersey Republican who spearheaded a compromise that helped push an ObamaCare repeal bill through the House last spring, is also playing defense. He is in a competitive race in a district rated as lean Republican by Cook.

Asked if the GOP should push forward with ObamaCare repeal, MacArthur replied: “I am focused on improving healthcare in any way we can; I'm not looking to tilt at windmills.”

ObamaCare’s favorability in polls has improved since the repeal push last year, with more now favoring the law than not. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in March found that 50 percent of the public favors the law, while 43 percent holds an unfavorable view.

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said the political winds have shifted on the issue, turning ObamaCare into a subject Democrats want to tout and many Republicans want to duck.

“I don’t think it’s seen as a winning issue,” he said. “It’s also an issue that tends to fire up the Democratic base more so than the Republican base.”

Republican supporters of repeal argue the House is paying for the Senate GOP’s sins.

While Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Atheist group argues in court for prayer rights on House floor Small-dollar donations explode in the Trump era MORE (R-Wis.), with the help of lawmakers such as MacArthur and Faso, was able to muscle through ObamaCare repeal legislation, it died in the Senate.

That’s a bigger factor than shifts in the law’s popularity, said Michael Steel, a former aide to former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerHouston Chronicle endorses Beto O'Rourke in Texas Senate race The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — House postpones Rosenstein meeting | Trump hits Dems over Medicare for all | Hurricane Michael nears landfall Kavanaugh becomes new flashpoint in midterms defined by anger MORE (R-Ohio).

While “there’ve been some incremental improvements in the popularity,” he said, “I think the legislative record is the bigger factor.”

Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeGOP loads up lame-duck agenda as House control teeters Both sides digging in for post-midterm shutdown fight Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills MORE (R-Okla.) likewise argued that “the Senate has sabotaged the issue.”

Democrats argue they have the wind at their backs on health care, pointing to polls like a CNN survey in February that found 83 percent of voters rate health care as important to their vote, above the economy or taxes.

“If Republicans continue their war on health care and Democrats call them on it, the opposition party will continue to widen its advantage in the midterm elections,” Brad Woodhouse, campaign director of the pro-ObamaCare group Protect Our Care, wrote in a memo this month.

Asked if Republicans should run on ObamaCare repeal this year, Rep. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsElection Countdown: Florida Senate fight resumes after hurricane | Cruz softens ObamaCare attacks | GOP worries Trump will lose suburban women | Latest Senate polls | Rep. Dave Brat gets Trump's 'total endorsement' | Dem candidates raise record B GOP Rep. Chris Collins raised from within district after indictment Election Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach MORE (R-N.Y.) replied simply, “No.”

“Frankly I think we should be running more on our positive issues, starting with tax reform,” Collins said.

If Republicans do talk about health care, he said, it should be in attacking Democrats for favoring a single payer system.

“When one of our opponents comes out and says ‘I want a single-payer system,’ sure I'll take it to them, but I don't think we should be leading with it,” Collins said. “I think to some extent we've moved beyond that message.”

Some conservatives are not happy with Republicans who are backing down on the issue.

“Freedom should be a winning issue,” said Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs at the conservative group FreedomWorks. “Republicans should be running on this.”

He said the party needs to get better at messaging. “They aren’t messaging it at all; they're not talking about it all,” he said.

Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), kept up the criticism of the health-care law when asked if Republicans are backing off the issue.

“Voters will be made aware of Democrats’ leading role in destroying the American health care system,” he said. “They own every failure after they forced Obamacare on the country.”

While many Republicans said they are not going to emphasize health care in the campaign this year, they argued they are not worried about Democratic attacks.

“Some people don't like my involvement, other people appreciate it,” said MacArthur, who brokered a crucial compromise with the conservative Freedom Caucus last year that helped the repeal bill pass the House. “I did what I believe was right.”

Cole, a former chairman of the NRCC, said many Republicans are in districts where Democratic attacks on repeal won’t work.

“If that's the attack, bring it on in my district, every district's different, but I'm in a state where we're not even a Medicaid expansion state because that's considered ObamaCare,” Cole said.

Faso said that he now wants to take potentially bipartisan actions to help bring premiums down, like providing funding known as reinsurance to lower rates. 

“We shouldn't relitigate the issue from 2010,” he said. “We should actually figure [it] out, and resist the temptation of sloganeering on this and actually work to fix the system.”