Messaging health care down the ballot

Messaging health care down the ballot
GOP strategists say tax message will drive down-ballot attacks.

The Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care law is “the ultimate messaging gift” for Republicans, argues one GOP pollster.

The message for down-ballot Republicans this fall: “The only way to prevent ObamaCare's budget-busting healthcare tax is to elect a new president and give the GOP strong majorities in both houses of Congress,” says Chris Wilson, a Republican pollster who works for a slew of candidates at the congressional level.

While the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision is a major election year victory for President Obama and the White House, Republicans were quick to pounce on the tax message Thursday with many GOP strategists trying to make the case that the ruling will work in their party’s favor.     

In its decision, the court held the law's individual mandate constitutional under the taxing powers of Congress, not the Commerce Clause, with Chief Justice John Roberts offering the deciding vote.

“Republican political consultants rejoice,” online strategist Patrick Ruffini tweeted shortly after the court’s ruling.

Republican pollster Jim McLaughlin, whose firm works for dozens of candidates at the state and local level, thinks the ruling not only offers down-ballot Republicans a prime messaging opportunity ahead of the fall but that it only further serves to energize the GOP base.

“It keeps the healthcare issue on the table,” says McLaughlin.

Had the high court invalidated the individual mandate, he says, it would have served to energize a relatively depressed Democratic base, potentially boosting the political fortunes of Democrats at the congressional level.    

“I don’t think this decision changes the campaign narrative or Republican attacks in congressional races at all,” counters Democratic pollster John Anzalone. “Republicans were using the tax argument before the ruling. The small benefit for Dems is that the Supreme Court is seen as a referee and for some voters this might take the issue off the table.”

While polling shows a solid majority of Americans oppose the law, the numbers are split when it comes to the notion of repeal, notes Anzalone, who thinks Democrats can win the down-ballot message battle on health care by focusing on the law's more popular provisions.   

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, meanwhile, quickly released an email fundraising appeal after the high court’s ruling. “Republicans threw everything they had at us, and they lost,” DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) wrote. “With you standing with us, we can carry this momentum into November and win a Democratic majority to keep making progress.” 

While Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney both work to claim the upper hand on messaging in the wake of the decision, down-ballot candidates will likely take some time to find their own footing. Earlier this month, Democratic pollster Jef Pollock said some of his congressional clients were waiting on the court’s decision before going into the field with their 2012 polling.

"We don’t usually have that, where the Supreme Court is holding us up from doing what we do," said Pollock.

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