Obamacare Enlarging the Map of Competitive Senate Races
Fallout from the Obamacare rollout is affecting at least two Senate races that Democrats expected to win with relative ease.
In Colorado, Senator Mark Udall was expected to have a fairly easy race against any Republican challenger that emerged, including Ken Buck who challenged Senator Michael Bennett in 2010 unsuccessfuly, as well as two other challengers.
But more than 100,000 Coloradoans have had their insurance cancelled because of Obamacare, while the state exchange has signed up a paltry 10,000 people. Even Democrats are conceding that the race is now far more competitive than it was as recently as last summer.
And in Michigan, three-term Congressman Gary Peters -- once heavily favored against several mostly unknown Republican challengers -- finds himself in a tight race with former Michigan Secretary of State Terry Lynn Land leading the GOP field. The Detroit bankruptcy and stubbornly high unemployment isn't helping either.
Republicans need 6 Senate seats to wrest control from the Democrats. There are 7 Democratic incumbents or open races where a Democrat is retiring that are taking place in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012.
During a campaign swing last week, Peters defended his support for the health law, and refrained from attacking Land for backing House Republicans' October shutdown of the federal government in their fight to defund the law.
"This bill gets us down the road but we've got to keep working on it," Peters said in an interview after a campaign event in Kalamazoo. "This is an election about someone who just wants to repeal the law and has no alternative and someone who is rolling up his sleeves."
Land said she plans to use Peters' claim that policyholders will not lose their coverage as a main campaign point. "When you make that promise, and you don't deliver, it really goes to the credibility," she said.
The policy cancellations broadly link Peters and Udall, as well as other Democrats, to cracks appearing in public perceptions of Obama. Just 42 percent of Americans approve of the job he's doing, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll this month. The poll found 56 percent of Americans said the word "honest" does not describe Obama well.
In Kalamazoo, in GOP-heavy western Michigan, perceptions of the health care law and its impact on the Senate race depend on who you ask.
"These issues can be fixed," said Lucy Bland, director of a food co-op kitchen.
"It going to set us all back for a long time," countered Kevin McLeod, with the area Chamber of Commerce.
Democratic National Committee leaders say publicly they welcome election-year attacks on the health care law, and plan to respond by pointing to the October shutdown. By next fall, they contend, the contour of the Michigan and Colorado Senate races will look more like 2012.
"None of these races have had their fundamentals change" due to problems with implementation of the health care law, said Justin Barasky, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
But Republican strategist Charlie Black notes that former President George W. Bush's believability slipped below 50 percent in November, 2005, a year before Democrats retook control of both houses of Congress. He said voters began questioning Bush's honesty and competence after the failed federal response to Hurricane Katrina that year.
"Obamacare gives both these negatives to Barack Obama," Black said.
In Iowa, the race to succeed retiring Senator Tom Harkin has tightened considerably. Democrats coalesced early around Rep. Bruce Braley, who has an excellent head start in organizing and fundraising. But a recent Quinnipiac poll shows Braley leading little known Republican, US Attorney Matt Whitaker by only 43-40.
The GOP is having its own problems in Kentucky and Georgia, where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is dealing with a serious primary challenge from Tea Party favorite Mark Bevin. His likely Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, is polling even with the incumbent. And in Georgia, where two Republican Congressmen are vying for the opportunity to succeed the retiring Saxbe Chambliss, Republicans face prospect of running against the probable Democratic nominee, Michelle Nunn -- daughter of a legendary Senator in the state, Sam Nunn.
It's generally believed that the Republicans have to hang on to at least one of those seats to have a chance to upend the Senate. But the changing map brought about by Obamacare's problems may give the GOP a little breathing room as the year turns and campaigns begin to heat up.