VIENNA, Va. -- President Barack Obama has portrayed the health care reform that bears his name as a means of extending something vital, health insurance, to tens of millions of people who don't have any. Republican challenger Mitt Romney has cast Obamacare as something else, part of a dangerous wave of government interference in free enterprise.
On Tuesday morning in Virginia, a battleground state crucial to both candidates, conversations with voters suggested that Romney's critique had gained significant traction with some in the affluent suburb of Vienna, potentially threatening Obama's prospects in a state he won in 2008.
"The health care issue for me was really just a manifestation of government growth," said José Cardenas, 52, who had just cast his ballot for Romney. "The idea that we're handing one-sixth of the economy over to government control is disconcerting."
Cardenas, who has health insurance through his employer, didn't decide to vote for Romney just because he doesn't like the president's health reform. "I can't say that I came because of Obamacare," said Cardenas, standing outside James Madison High School, less than 20 miles from Washington, D.C. But Obamacare embodies for him the divide in American politics over the proper role of government.
Voters who spoke to The Huffington Post here in Fairfax County, America's second-richest county, saw the health care issue through the lens of their broader views about politics and the interaction of the free market with government. While pro-Romney Virginians like Cardenas complained of over-regulation, Obama supporters described the reforms as key to ensuring more Americans have access to affordable health care.
Obama and Romney campaigned hard in this swing state, and polls heading into Election Day showed Virginia's 13 electoral votes were still up for grabs. In 2008, Virginia favored Obama over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by 53 percent to 46 percent. Obama won 60 percent of the vote in Fairfax County that year.
The future of the U.S. health care system is on the ballot Tuesday. Two years ago, Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, sweeping legislation to extend health insurance coverage to an estimated 30 million uninsured Americans and to enforce stricter regulations on health insurance, including requirements that health plans offer benefits to anyone regardless of pre-existing conditions and an individual mandate that most individuals obtain coverage. Romney has vowed to repeal that law and favors less federal oversight of the health insurance industry.
Cardenas voted for Romney this year because he believes Obama's approach to solving the nation's problems favors the government over the market. "To the extent that policy gets involved in attempting to regulate a service like this, the more you're disrupting the natural flow of things," he said. Whenever he hears about proposals like Obamacare, "I immediately grab for my wallet," he said.
Diane Lim Rogers, who declined to say whether she had voted for Obama or Romney, works on federal fiscal policy issues and doesn't think either candidate put forth a credible plan to deal with rising spending on Medicare and Medicaid.
Lim Rogers is pleased that Obama's law should reduce the federal budget deficit, aims to contain government health care spending and would expand health insurance coverage to additional people. She wants more, though.
"Politicians are loath to bring up difficult choices," she said. "There's going to have to be some reduction in someone's benefits in the future."
For Henry and Ingrid Bishop, the health care debate is more personal. Their 40-year-old son doesn't get health benefits at work and can't afford to buy his own so the retired couple has been paying for his health insurance for the past few years.
Health care was a "big part" of why they both voted to reelect Obama, said Ingrid Bishop, 77. "I think everyone should have health insurance."
A native of Germany, she is frustrated that health care costs so much in the United States and that so many people go without coverage. While visiting her 100-year-old father in Germany, she broke her arm and had to pay just 200 euros -- about $250 -- for all her treatments, she said.
Both the Bishops are covered by Medicare, but they aren't worried that Obama's health reform, which will reduce Medicare payments to health care providers by $716 billion over a decade, will affect their benefits, said Henry Bishop, 81. And if the law winds up increasing their costs, then so be it, he said.
"I don't think this is going to change it that much. It may cost us a little bit more, but that's the price of getting everybody covered," said Henry Bishop, a retired government employee. "When you got to a restaurant and you have wait staff serving you, you want them to be healthy."
Ingrid Bishop wasn't swayed by Romney's declarations that Medicare cuts would harm senior citizens and doesn't like the plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, to convert Medicare into a "premium support" voucher system for future retirees. "I'm not a fan of Congressman Ryan. He's too far from the mainstream," she said.
Another voter's experience with her elderly father pushed her in the opposite direction. It was part of why she voted for Romney, said Pia Pell, 55, who was handing out Republican sample ballots outside the high school's entrance.
Pell's 92-year-old father, who served in the military during World War II, receives his medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, she said. The VA bureaucracy can be difficult to navigate, and she feels as though her father doesn't have control over his own care. Pell's fear is that the president's health reform will make the private market more like this government program.
"We're very concerned about Obamacare," said Pell, who has health insurance through her husband's job. "There is no recourse when the government takes over," she added.
Although Obama's law will extend health care coverage through the private insurance market, Pell believes it's a step in the direction of creating a single-payer system that the federal government would run for everyone.
A breast cancer survivor, Pell said she worries that greater government regulation of health insurance will lead to medical treatments being denied to people because they're too old or too sick. She also isn't comfortable with government-led public health initiatives touted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and first lady Michelle Obama, she said.
"Once they're controlling the health care, they're going to think that they have license to control more and more of our health choices," Pell said.
BEFORE YOU GO
11/07/2012 6:56 PM EST
Jewish Vote Goes 69 Percent For Barack Obama: Exit Polls
HuffPost's Andrea Stone reports:
WASHINGTON -- Exit polls indicate that President Barack Obama received 69 percent of the Jewish vote Tuesday. Partisans have just begun to argue whether that was an overwhelming endorsement or the latest evidence that one of the Democratic Party's most reliable constituencies is becoming less so with every presidential election.
Read the full story here.
11/07/2012 5:31 PM EST
Young Voters Help Secure Obama Victory
HuffPost's Tyler Kingkade reports:
NEW YORK -- Mitt Romney lost the youth vote by a huge margin, and with it, he lost the presidency.
Sixty percent of young voters who cast ballots chose to reelect President Barack Obama, against the 36 percent who voted for Mitt Romney. That's a six point slide in youth support for Obama from 2008, but still nearly triple the margin of victory for the youth vote that John Kerry won over George W. Bush in 2004.
An analysis by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University found that had the youth vote been split 50-50 for the presidential race in just four states -- Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia -- Romney would have been elected president. In each of those four crucial swing states, exit polling shows young voters made up 16 to 19 percent of the electorate.
According to the National Journal, Republicans had counted on the youth vote to be held to just 15 or 16 percent of the electorate in order to secure a Romney victory.
But CIRCLE estimates 22 to 23 million people between the ages of 18 and 29 nationwide voted this election. Exit polls show voters ages 18 to 29 made up 19 percent of the electorate, a 1-point increase from 2008.
"It is because [Romney] lost the youth vote pretty decisively that he will not be the next president of the United States," said CIRCLE's director, Peter Levine.
Read the full story here.
11/07/2012 3:18 PM EST
Longer Voting Lines For Minorities
Hours after President Barack Obama declared that the nation needs to fix the problem of long lines at the voting booth, a survey by Hart Research, commissioned by the AFL-CIO, found that minorities and Democrats were more likely to experience long wait times than others.
Nearly a quarter of blacks -- 24 percent -- and Hispanics -- 22 percent -- reported waiting in line more than 30 minutes, compared to 9 percent of whites. Obama voters were nearly twice as likely as Romney voters to face long lines, at 16 percent to 9 percent.
-- Dan Froomkin
11/07/2012 1:43 PM EST
Berg To Concede To Heitkamp
@ jonathanweisman :
I hear Berg concedes to Heitkamp at 2:45ish CDT. With Angus King, Dems go up 55-45 in Senate. If nothing else, they have a cushion for 2014
11/07/2012 1:00 PM EST
Husband, Wife Congressional Pair Lose Bi-Coastal Races
Both members of the only married couple in Congress lost their races last night. Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) was defeated in his U.S. Senate campaign against Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Mack's wife, Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) lost her bid for reelection to Democrat Raul Ruiz by 4,500 votes.
Bono Mack was first elected to Congress in a 1998 special election following the death of her first husband, Rep. Sonny Bono (R-Calif.). She was seen as the frontrunner to hold the Palm Springs area seat, having defeated her previous Democratic challengers by large margins. She married Connie Mack, a four-term congressman, in 2007. It is her third marriage and his second.
-- John Celock
11/07/2012 12:55 PM EST
Win Or Lose, Heitkamp Posts Best Dem Numbers In North Dakota
With North Dakota's U.S. Senate race still undecided, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp's narrow lead over Republican Rep. Rick Berg is the best showing by a Democrat statewide in North Dakota this year. Current results show Heitkamp, a former state attorney general, holds a 3,000 vote -- or 1 percentage point -- lead over Berg in the contest to replace retiring Sen. Kent Conrad (D).
The next closest Democratic performances in the state this year occurred in the races for Congress and public service commissioner. In the congressional race, Republican Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer defeated Democrat former state Rep. Pam Gulleson 54 percent to 41 percent. In the public service commissioner race, Republican Randy Christmann defeated Democrat Brad Crabtree 54 percent to 41 percent. Crabtree was one of the most outspoken candidates in North Dakota, using the race to campaign for ethics reform and what he believed to be moral lapses at the Public Service Commission. In the governor's race, Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) easily defeated state Senate Minority Leader Ryan Taylor (D-Towner), 63 percent to 34 percent.
If elected, Heitkamp would be the first woman elected to represent North Dakota in Congress and the second woman to serve the state in Washington, D.C. Former Sen. Jocelyn Burdick (D) represented North Dakota in the Senate for three months in 1992 following the death of her husband, Sen. Quentin Burdick (D). Jocelyn Burdick was appointed to her Senate seat by then Gov. George Sinner (D).
-- John Celock
11/07/2012 12:43 PM EST
Bullock Wins Gubernatorial Race
@ NBCNews :
NBC News declares Steve Bullock as the projected winner in Montana - Governor. #NBCPolitics
11/07/2012 12:00 PM EST
Allen West: 'Our Race Is Far From Decided'
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) is expected to lose his reelection bid to Democrat Patrick Murphy, although the race has not yet been fully called. Until it is, West's campaign isn't pleased that people keep saying he's out, according to a statement posted on his Facebook page Wednesday morning:
Our race is far from decided and there is no rush to declare an outcome. Ensuring a fair and accurate counting off all ballots is of the utmost importance. There are still tens of thousands of absentee ballots to be counted in Palm Beach County and potential provisional ballots across the district. Late last night Congressman West maintained a district wide lead of nearly 2000 votes until the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections “recounted” thousands of early ballots. Following that "recount" Congressman West trailed by 2,400 votes. In addition, there were numerous other disturbing irregularities reported at polls across St. Lucie County including the doors to polling places being locked when the polls closed in direct violation of Florida law, thereby preventing the public from witnessing the procedures used to tabulate results. The St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections office clearly ignored proper rules and procedures, and the scene at the Supervisor’s office last night could only be described as complete chaos. Given the hostility and demonstrated incompetence of the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections, we believe it is critical that a full hand recount of the ballots take place in St. Lucie County. We will continue to fight to ensure every vote is counted properly and fairly, and accordingly we will pursue all legal means necessary.
Murphy is leading in votes, according to exit polling, with 160,328 to West's 157,872. The district is the only House race in Florida that has yet to be called.
-- Elise Foley
11/07/2012 11:46 AM EST
Latino Voter Poll: Romney Campaign Hostile, Disinterested In Reaching Out
More than 55 percent of Latino voters thought the Romney campaign was hostile toward them -- a good indication of why he may have lost them so badly -- and 18 percent believed he had no interest in reaching out to them, according to an impreMedia-Latino Decisions poll released in full Wednesday morning.
The "election eve" poll was taken from Nov. 1 to Nov. 5, surveying Latinos who had either already voted or said they were certain they would do so. Results from 11 states were released late Tuesday evening and into early Wednesday.
ImpreMedia-Latino Decisions found that a record proportion of Latinos, 75 percent, supported President Barack Obama, while only 23 percent voted for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who conceded the election after losing the electoral college by more than 100 votes. National exit polls put Obama at 71 percent support from Latinos and Romney at 27 percent.
Obama likely fared better among Latinos in part because he seemed more interested in reaching out to them: 66 percent of those polled said they felt Obama truly cares about them. Twenty-three percent said Obama was hostile toward Latino voters.
Immigration reform proved pivotal, even though it wasn't the highest-ranking priority, with 57 percent of Latino voters polled saying they were less enthusiastic about Romney based on his positions on the issue.
See the full results here, including state breakdowns in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas.
-- Elise Foley