New York Times: To Rally Voters, Democrats Focus on Health Care as Their Closing Argument
October 29, 2018
By Trip Gabriel
Senator Claire McCaskill isn’t subtle in reminding voters what her campaign is all about. She’s rechristened it the “Your Health Care, Your Vote” tour.
The turnaround could not be more startling. After years of running as far as they could from President Barack Obama’s health care law, Ms. McCaskill and vulnerable Senate Democrats in Florida, West Virginia and other political battlegrounds have increasingly focused their closing argument on a single issue: saving the Affordable Care Act.
Now, with Republicans desperate to reposition themselves and come up with their own health care pitch, and with the elections roiled by gale-force winds on immigration and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, the question is whether health care will be enough to save her and Democrats in other key Senate races. Most recently, the mail bombs sent from Florida and the fatal synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh on Saturday have added jagged new pieces with the potential to further disrupt both parties’ strategies.
Ms. McCaskill and her Republican opponent, the Missouri attorney general, Josh Hawley, clashed sharply over health care once again at their final debate on Thursday. She lambasted him for participating in a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and would end its protections for those with pre-existing conditions. He said he supported a program that would protect patients with high medical costs outside the current health care law.
On the same day, President Trump proposed that Medicare pay for certain prescription drugs based on the prices paid in other industrialized countries — one recent initiative coming from the White House and Republicans after years of campaigning on killing the Affordable Care Act without offering a replacement that would include comparable protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Mr. Trump announced falsely last October he had already killed the Affordable Care Act, saying: “It’s dead. It’s gone. It’s no longer.” Senate Republicans introduced legislation in August they said would protect people with pre-existing conditions. But health experts say the bill would allow insurers to exclude services and treatment for certain pre-existing conditions.
Nonetheless, Mr. Trump tweeted last week: “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not! Vote Republican.”
And on Friday, Mr. Obama, in speeches in Detroit and Milwaukee, mocked Republican ads on health care, accusing them of trying to rewrite history and their own positions after seeking for years to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
It is unknown whether Democrats’ health care message will hold up as Mr. Trump, through almost daily rallies and frequent Twitter blasts, tries to dominate television news and social media in the campaign’s final days. He has said the midterms would be about “Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order, and common sense.”
But after years of trying and failing to rally voters behind the complicated features of Mr. Obama’s health care law, Democrats have discovered this year the emotional power of one of its benefits, protecting people with pre-existing illnesses.
The subject has lit up polls, monopolized advertising budgets and driven a national strategy for Democrats, who are defending 10 Senate seats in states Mr. Trump won and are relying heavily on health care as a defining issue in key states including Arizona, Florida, West Virginia and Nevada.
“This is the message coming straight from people in the red states,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democrats’ Senate campaign committee.
Republicans have been put on the defensive, insisting in TV ads featuring their family members that they, too, support affordable care for people with pre-existing conditions.
Their claims come after years of lawsuits and congressional votes by Republicans to gut or weaken the health care law’s protections of expensive chronic illnesses.