Dems Challenge Theme That Health Care Vote Makes Members Vulnerable

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Democrats are unhappy and a bit worried about a theme developing in the mainstream press that the House's vote on health care legislation puts dozens of the party's members in electoral vulnerability.

In the days since the House of Representatives passed legislation by a 220 to 215 vote, a slew of stories have emerged -- fed by an aggressive posture from the Republican Party -- that supporting members now find themselves in hot water.

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza identified the "five toughest votes" in the House -- they were all cast by Democrats. Politico, likewise, noted on Monday that 12 Democratic lawmakers now find themselves with a political bulls-eye on their backs related to their vote.

"They're taking GOP talking points," complained one Democratic strategist. "Passing reform is extraordinarily popular. Just look at the polling."

"Who's walking the plank?" a perplexed Rep. George Miller, Chair of the Education and Labor Committee, said when asked about vulnerable Democrats. "For national health care?"

Part of it has been strategic maneuvering. Republicans, simply, are being far more aggressive at leveling post-vote threats.

In the immediate aftermath of the vote, Andy Sere, a regional press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee, sent 16 separate emails attacking Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) for his vote; the first of which was titled, "BREAKING: The end of Tom Perriello's political career." The rest of the committee, meanwhile, is publicly going after a host of other Democratic lawmakers, including Gabby Giffords (Ariz.), Harry Mitchell (Ariz.), Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio), Zack Space (Ohio), Steve Driehaus (Ohio), and Vic Snyder (Ark.).

"It is akin to the Washington Redskins talking trash after losing to the Falcons," said Doug Thornell, an adviser to Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Chris Van Hollen, in response to the taunting. "Two words for House Republicans: Win something."

Democrats and health care reform proponents, for their part, have chosen a different tack. The non-profit Health Care for America Now, for instance, is running television ads thanking 20 vulnerable members for their support. And while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out individual emails targeting roughly 30 Republicans, the hard-hitting stuff seems to be coming on the local level.

The Delaware Democratic Party sent out a note from Chairman John D. Daneillo in which he warned that Republican Rep. Mike Castle (a potential Senate candidate) had just cast a vote that would lead to his ouster "next November." U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, likewise hit Republican Rep. Mark Kirk (also a Senate candidate) for selling his soul on health care in pursuit of former Gov. Sarah Palin's endorsement.

All of which may be resonating locally. But at least three separate strategists told the Huffington Post that they were concerned that the national story line was moving against their favor. Rather than just celebrating "a historic vote," said one, Democrats should be "putting national Republicans on the defensive for being on the wrong side of history."

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