WASHINGTON -- The man tasked with electing Democrats to the House of Representatives is dismissing the newest round of conventional wisdom that the president’s health care law hurt the party in Tuesday's Virginia gubernatorial election and will haunt the party in 2014.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told The Huffington Post Tuesday night that he's unfazed by the rocky rollout of Obamacare -- at least for now. And so long as the federal website for health insurance exchanges gets fixed soon, Israel predicted, the law will not play a major role in the coming congressional elections.
“They have to get it fixed and they have to get it fixed fast,” said Israel. “But I will say this, in every poll that I’ve looked at, and I’ve looked at every poll I can, if given the choice between a Republican who vows to defund and repeal the Affordable Care Act or a Democrat who vows to fix and improve the Affordable Care Act, a significant majority of voters prefer the Democrat."
Israel conceded that he would not be surprised if some candidates ran against the health care law, as conservative Democrats have been inclined to do in the past.
“Every candidate runs a race that conforms to the values and priorities of their districts. Some ran away from it in 2010 and lost,” said Israel.
He pointed out that the rollout of Medicare Part D in 2006, during the George W. Bush administration, was similarly flawed, but that wasn't the reason Republicans experienced congressional losses that year.
"It was identical headlines [to what] we are seeing now, and lots of reporters were speculating that Bush would lose because of the botched rollout of the Part D program," Israel said. "He lost because of the economic meltdown. Nobody remembers the botched rollout of the prescription drug program. So, as long as the administration can get this up and running efficiently, I don’t think it is going to be a dominant issue in a year from now.”
The question of what role, if any, the president’s health care law will play in the 2014 elections was the hot topic of debate Wednesday morning, following a tough-to-interpret win for Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia gubernatorial race. The former DNC Chair and longtime Clinton confidante was expected to score a larger victory than he did over his Republican opponent, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, prompting the commentariat to declare that Obamacare was a weight around his neck in the closing weeks.
Larry Sabato, a longtime Virginia political chronicler, attributed Cuccinelli's better than expected performance to Obamacare. Politico declared that Obamacare “almost killed McAuliffe.” The National Journal’s Ron Fornier predicted that Democrats would “run away from Obamacare," and CNN concluded that “Obamacare lost.”
And yet, there is very little data to quantify the impact the health care law actually had on the Virginia election. The exit polls showed that Virginians opposed the law by a margin of 53 percent to 46 percent, suggesting that the law was indeed a drag on Democrats. But of those who opposed the law, 11 percent actually voted for McAuliffe.
Moreover, the Affordable Care Act has routinely polled poorly, with Democrats nevertheless winning races. As White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer noted, Obamacare's numbers in the 2013 Virginia exit polls were about the same as those in the 2012 exit polls, which involved a higher turnout election. Those 2012 exit polls showed 48 percent supporting the health care law's repeal, and 47 percent opposing it.
Israel’s comments make clear that Obamacare's rollout is cause for political concern and may, indeed, have caused some damage. Certainly, three straight weeks of negative press coverage can do that.
But websites can get fixed, laws can be improved, and impressions can evolve. And so, Israel chose to make an alternate case -- that the GOP brand is far more toxic than any one law.
“If you look at [New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie, who actually ran against the House Republican brand and won, and then look at Ken Cuccinelli, who ran on the House Republican brand and lost, you realize how toxic the House Republican brand is,” said Israel.
"If you are a Republican, you embrace [House Speaker] John Boehner, you lose," he said. "If you are a Republican who seeks distance with John Boehner, you win. That tells me the Boehner brand is in trouble.”