Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Wait -- Obamacare isn't an issue?

By Leigh Ann Caldwell, CNN
May 30, 2014 -- Updated 2050 GMT (0450 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Republicans are broadening their message beyond Obamacare
  • Polling suggests that fewer people want to repeal the law
  • Republicans voted more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare after it was enacted

Washington (CNN) -- The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, might not be the Republican Party's key to electoral victory as once thought.

Patterns are emerging that Republicans and like-minded groups are broadening their scope and not homing in on a singular anti-Obamacare message.

In March, Reince Priebus, head of the Republican National Committee, told CNN's Candy Crowley that Obamacare is "complete poison" and advised Republican candidates they "have to hit your main target which is Obamacare" in order to win.

Democrats search for a 'Plan B'
Tea Party roundup in Texas
Poll: Keep Obamacare

But in the political world, things change fast, and March is the equivalent to a millennium ago.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who is in a reelection bid against surprisingly strong Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, recently said that while he wants to repeal the law, Kentucky's version, Kynect, is "unconnected" to the fate of Obamacare.

Kynect is relatively popular in Kentucky, providing insurance coverage to more than 413,000 people, but was created under the Affordable Care Act and is funded mostly through federal funds.

McConnell's shift is subtle but meaningful. During his primary campaign against a candidate who billed himself as more conservative than McConnell, the Senate leader took a hard-line stance on getting rid of -- or repealing -- Obamacare, which has been the Republican mantra until recently.

He's not the only one. Americans for Prosperity, which is expected to spend north of $100 million this election cycle backing issues that Republicans favor, has also shifted its strategy.

In the lead up to the launch of Obamacare last fall, during its disastrous rollout and in the months after, AFP had a laser-like focus on the issue, spending tens of millions of dollars in states and districts where Democrats are vulnerable.

2014 primaries: What's at stake

"We do want to make sure that Obamacare is the Number One issue in the country," AFP President Tim Phillips said in February.

At that time, the law had been in effect for less than two months, it was lagging behind its target enrollment pace and the effects of a bad roll out still permeated.

Phillips said Obamacare is going to be the top issue because the "tidal wave affects are going to continue with Obamacare."

Furthermore, a March 15 statement on the organization's website described itself as the "nation's foremost advocate for health care freedom."

But now, two months later, AFP has broadened its scope. Its website now features a campaign against the Export-Import Bank, which is not related to Obamacare. Also, an ad airing in Louisiana, where Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is locked in a tight reelection race, attacks her for "wasteful government spending." Missing from the ad -- the word "Obamacare."

In addition, its partner group, AFP Foundation, launched an $850,000 ad buy in Wisconsin earlier this week that focuses on taxes and also doesn't mention the O-word.

AFP doesn't deny it.

"We're responding to the changing environment," AFP spokesman Levi Russell said. "That initial shock (of Obamacare) has changed a little bit, but it hasn't gone away."

Republicans are now retooling their message, after having emerged from primary battles of who's farther to the right they must now try to appeal to a more diverse audience that has become more accepting of the federal health care program approved in 2010 without Republican support.

Polling suggests that public attitudes are shifting.

The latest CNN poll from early May found that 38% of people wanted to either replace the law or get rid of it. The results are similar to a CBS poll which found 35% of respondents said the law needs to be repealed, which is a far better billing than the 43% who felt the same way in November.

Elizabeth Wilner with the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan polling group, wrote that Republicans are starting to use the word "fix" in their campaigning, instead of "repeal."

"Republicans have been gearing up for months ... to run against Obamacare, then it started to work," Michael Czin, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee said, noting that 8 million people have signed up.

Since Republicans gained control of the House in 2011, they voted more than 50 times on a full or partial repeal of the health care law, that's more than one vote per month, but the pace has fallen off dramatically in recent months.

2014 key races to watch

That matters because in an election year, congressional business is connected to electoral politics as lawmakers want to either promote their agenda or tarnish the other party.

But Russell predicts the issue will not go away, especially as the elections approach and new premium rates are announced this fall.

"Our role is going to be to remind folks how we got here in the first place," he said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
See the full results for who won the Senate, House and governor midterm elections.
November 6, 2014 -- Updated 0226 GMT (1026 HKT)
Attention Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and everyone else "seriously considering" a run for president.
November 6, 2014 -- Updated 2318 GMT (0718 HKT)
You know that Republican doctor who got one of his patients pregnant and then demanded that she get an abortion? Yeah, he won.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
The 2014 midterm elections brought a historic victory for Republicans, handing the GOP its largest congressional majority since World War II.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
It was a tough night for Democrats -- who will be looking for a leader for 2016 -- and a big night for the GOP -- who may have a few more names to consider.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
A Republican tide ripped the Senate away from Democrats, giving the GOP full control of Congress and the power to pin down President Obama.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 0247 GMT (1047 HKT)
The House of Representatives remained solidly in Republican hands after Tuesday's midterm election.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1222 GMT (2022 HKT)
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell has won re-election in Kentucky, staving off Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, according to a CNN projection.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 0706 GMT (1506 HKT)
Sen. Ted Cruz lauded the Republican Senate takeover, but shied away from endorsing Sen. Mitch McConnell to lead the new majority.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1631 GMT (0031 HKT)
CNN asked commentators for views on the results of the midterm elections, in which the GOP took back the Senate and retained control of the House.
November 6, 2014 -- Updated 0117 GMT (0917 HKT)
South Carolina's Tim Scott became the first African-American senator to win election in the South since Reconstruction.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Voters in Oregon and D.C. have voted to approve sweeping pro-marijuana legalization while voters in Florida gave the thumbs down.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
Republicans continued their dominance of governor's mansions when a number of GOP leaders fought off stiff challenges from Democrats.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 0414 GMT (1214 HKT)
Republican David Perdue has won the race for Georgia's U.S. Senate seat occupied by retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 0609 GMT (1409 HKT)
First-term Democratic incumbent North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan lost in a tight contest against GOP challenger Thom Tillis.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 0309 GMT (1109 HKT)
Republican Rep. Tom Cotton has defeated Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, according to a CNN projection.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Republican Scott Brown lost his second Senate race in two election cycles, failing to unseat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Former Gov. Charlie Crist conceded Florida's close gubernatorial race against GOP Gov. Rick Scott.
November 4, 2014 -- Updated 2349 GMT (0749 HKT)
A majority of Americans are dissatisfied with President Obama's administration and GOP leaders, according to exit polls released and analyzed by CNN.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 0247 GMT (1047 HKT)
Take a look around the country in our gallery as America votes.
Who's giving to outside groups? It's not just candidates and parties spending the cash.
ADVERTISEMENT