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 SandersBernie SandersBriahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' Lawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action 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 ClintonBiden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote Women's March endorses Nina Turner in first-ever electoral endorsement 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 BoehnerGOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger Freedom Caucus presses McCarthy to force vote to oust Pelosi Stripping opportunity from DC's children 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 DenhamBottom line Bottom line Business groups breathe sigh of relief over prospect of divided government 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 IssaGOP leans into racial issues ahead of midterms 'I want to cry': House Republicans take emotional trip to the border Musicians, broadcasters battle in Congress over radio royalties 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 RohrabacherFormer Rep. Rohrabacher says he took part in Jan. 6 march to Capitol but did not storm building On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 California was key factor in House GOP's 2020 success 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 WarrenPelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action MORE (D-Mass.) and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisWhy in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? Want to improve vaccine rates? Ask for this endorsement Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act 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 TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt 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 PelosiTim Ryan slams McCarthy for mocking Capitol physician, mask mandate McCarthy knocks Pelosi, mask mandate: 'This House has broken the country's trust' Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal 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.”