Joshua Benson, 27, is a Delray Beach supermarket cashier. Martin West, 46, of Davie, owns a human resources and staffing company with his wife. Stacy Sylvain, 19, is a community college student living in North Miami. One's a Democrat, one's a Republican, and the third is an independent-no party affiliation voter.
They seem to have little in common, politically or otherwise. But all three had a moment in the spotlight last week as fans and foes of Obamacare try to influence the 2014 elections.
"The No. 1 issue in this off-year election, in 2014, is going to be health care," said Justin Sayfie, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer-lobbyist and publisher of the SayfieReview political news website.
Both sides are geared up for a battle that will run at least through the November elections, when Florida voters will pick a governor and state Cabinet, decide on members of Congress, and staff the state Legislature.
Conservative activists are pushing the storyline that it's a disaster, hoping to maximize political gain in November. After months of being battered by bad publicity over the troubled rollout of the Obamacare website, Democrats are stepping up their efforts to sell the law, and minimize political fallout.
Last week, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, appeared at the Hispanic Unity social services organization in Hollywood, where she touted the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.
She introduced Benson, West and Sylvain, who explained for the TV news cameras how they'd found coverage, financial savings and peace of mind after arranging for coverage under the health care law. "I was struggling," said Benson, who has diabetes because his pancreas was removed to deal with chronic pancreatitis. "I didn't know where my insulin was going to come from for the next month."
Three days before Wasserman Schultz's event, the White House organized a telephone conference call featuring state Rep. Lori Berman, a Palm Beach County Democrat, and Steven Greenwald, a county resident who said he, too, had found good, low-cost coverage through Obamacare.
"Thousands of people in Florida, including many in my Palm Beach County district, are already achieving more peace of mind through their new coverage," Berman said. It's difficult to independently assess, since the Obama administration hasn't yet released enrollment figures for Floridians who signed up through December for coverage beginning Jan. 1.
Although Berman said the law "is not a partisan political issue between Democrats and Republicans," she and Wasserman Schultz both attempted to put Republicans on the defensive, arguing that the failure of Gov. Rick Scott and the state Legislature to go along with Obamacare's expansion of the Medicaid health program for the poor leaves more than 700,000 Floridians uncovered.
Republicans and Obamacare opponents aren't ceding any political ground. Last week, the Republican National Committee launched a radio ad campaign targeting Democrats "who lied to voters by telling them they could keep their health care plans under Obamacare."
Slade O'Brien, of Boca Raton, Florida director of Americans for Prosperity, said voters would hear reminders all year long about the law's failings. "Story after story, every day," he said. "It's just not going to go away."
He thinks the efforts will pay off at the polls. "If it's not the No. 1 issue, it'll be issue 1a."
At the last Broward Republican Party meeting of 2013, Chairman Tom Truex said his goal for the new year was to end infighting over social questions that divide Republicans and instead focus on issues on which everyone in the party agrees. At the top of his list: Obamacare.
In addition to political spin, Democrats are taking steps to minimize election fallout. The Obama administration has already delayed the fall 2014 signup for 2015 coverage. Originally scheduled to begin Oct. 15, it's now set to start Nov. 15 -- after the Nov. 4 election. Larry Kawa, an orthodontist who lives and practices west of Boca Raton and has filed a federal lawsuit challenging Obamacare, said postponing next year's enrollment is "nakedly transparent to everyone who scrutinizes it."
Discussion of Obamacare will be impossible to escape. "I don't see organizations like ours having any desire to stop talking about it," O'Brien said. The federal government will push Obamacare in ads during the winter Olympics, the website Politco reported. The ads will appear in markets with high rates of uninsured people; Florida has the nation's second highest rate of uninsured residents under age 65.
"There will definitely be a lot of noise and discussions. Obamacare will dominate many a talk show and be featured in a lot of political ads across the country," said Sean Foreman, a political scientist at Barry University in Miami Shores.
But, he said, so many people's opinions are formed on Obamacare and so many people are firmly in the camp of one political party, that the issue may change only a small number of votes in this year's elections. He doesn't see Obamacare energizing Democratic voters. "I don't see many of them going out to vote as a thank you to the Democrats, particularly without Barack Obama on the ballot."
At this point, Foreman said, he thinks 2014 will be similar to the midterm election four years ago "with the conservative base really fired up this year in a way they weren't in 2012." In the 2010 midterms, Sayfie said, Obamacare helped Republicans win control of the U.S. House, pick up seven seats in the U.S. Senate and win several governorships -- including Florida.
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