Campaign to Sell Health Care Vote Begins

Posted March 22, 2010 at 1:33pm

With the House health care reform vote just barely in the rearview mirror, Democrats pivoted to begin aggressively selling the bill to voters on behalf of vulnerable Members who took tough votes, while Republicans were gearing up to start a very different marketing campaign.

“Those Democrats in swing districts, who supported the bill, might have made Speaker Pelosi [D-Calif.] very happy, but they are fueling a level of anger and frustration that already exists within the constituencies they claim to represent,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) in a statement after the vote.

The NRCC will target Democrats who voted for the bill, including those who supported the measure after a deal was struck between Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and the White House on abortion funding, as well as candidates in open-seat races who came out in support of the bill. NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay said the committee is set to begin airing television ads in specific districts targeting Democrats who voted for the bill but could not divulge where or how much advertising was planned so far.

According to Democratic party officials, the key will be to emphasize the parts of the bill that will take effect immediately or that have been popular according to their polling.

“Our Members will go out and sell a number of popular provisions in the bill, many of which will take effect immediately,” said Ryan Rudominer, the national press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “And the process is over, so now it’s all about selling the benefits of the health care bill.”

DCCC aides believe some of those more popular provisions in the bill include covering dependents until age 26, closing the medicare “doughnut hole” and making it impossible for insurance companies to turn anyone away because of pre-existing conditions.

“I think that the biggest thing they can sell is they have taken on the insurance industry on behalf of real people,” said Democratic pollster John Anzalone. “They are now going to have security to not get dropped and get covered by pre-existing conditions and have competition in the market to stabilize prices.”

Anzalone, who polls for several top Democratic House and Senate campaigns, acknowledged that there’s a “hurdle” for Democrats to overcome because much of the bill does not take effect immediately.

“But there’s enough that will take effect immediately for people to understand that this will be good for them,” Anzalone added.

The Democrats who voted differently on reform legislation in November than in March will have an even greater hurdle to climb — explaining to voters why they changed their minds.

Democrats who voted against the November bill but voted for Sunday night’s passage include Reps. John Boccieri (Ohio), Allen Boyd (Fla.), Suzanne Kosmas (Fla.), Betsy Markey (Colo.) and Scott Murphy (N.Y.).

Retiring Reps. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) and Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) also voted “aye” on Sunday after initially voting “no” in November. The eighth Democrat who flipped from “no” to “yes” was Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who does not represent a competitive district.

The political danger of flip-flopping on a vote or an issue was most recently highlighted by Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) statement, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it,” which was famously used against him in the 2004 presidential race,

The party hopes the 13 Democrats who switched their votes on the health care bill between November and now won’t suffer a similar fate.

“They did vote against it, before they voted for it, but their concern is what are the fiscal impacts of this bill … these are fiscally conservative Democrats, and those are legitimate concerns,” said one Democratic consultant who works with House candidates. “That will come out, but God damn … I hope none of our guys say, ‘I voted for it before I voted against it.'”

Curt Anderson, a GOP consultant who works with bevy of House candidates and the NRCC, said Republicans would do well to stick to a simple argument when it comes to marketing the bill’s unpopularity to voters this year. He added that Members who voted against the November bill and voted for the March bill will be the easiest targets.

“I hate to say it, but it’s not going to take a lot of creative advertising” to show voters the difference, Anderson said. “Your only hope here is to be consistent. From a political standpoint, what are you going to say, ‘I got smarter? I got worried about my re-election?'”