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Five Races in Which the Health Care Debate Will Matter

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Demonstrators hold a rally at the Health and Human Services building Friday to protest the HHS mandates under the new health care law. The Supreme Court will hear a case on the law’s constitutionality today.

“The bigger issue in this race will be Brunner, Akin and Steelman’s desire to slash Medicare, cut benefits and make seniors pay more,” said Matt Canter, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “These candidates will also have to explain to Missouri voters why they want to create new loopholes for insurance companies to discriminate against pregnant women and kick 25-year-olds off their insurance.”

Akin was a strong and vocal supporter of last year’s Ryan budget and supports this year’s version as well. Both change the Medicare program in a substantial way that Democrats will frame as “ending Medicare as we know it.”

In a contest that could come down to a few thousand votes, the debate over the health care law — and the Ryan budget — could decide the winner.

Wisconsin

Tammy Baldwin (D) Vs. Tommy Thompson (R), Eric Hovde (R),
Mark Neumann (R) or Jeff Fitzgerald (R)

A contentious August GOP primary will determine who faces Baldwin, a staunch supporter of the Affordable Care Act who supported a single-payer government health plan. Whether that nominee is businessman Eric Hovde, former Rep. Mark Neumann or state Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, Baldwin’s left-of-center position on health care is likely to be an issue.

If, however, the GOP nominee is former Gov. Tommy Thompson, the health care law might play a bit differently in the general. Thompson, a former secretary of Health and Human Services, says he doesn’t support the law and never has, but his conservative detractors, including the Club for Growth, gleefully point to circumstantial evidence showing his apparent backing of at least big portions of it, including openness to the individual mandate. Perhaps most politically potent is a photo of him that was posted on the White House website after the law was passed. It depicts a smiling Thompson next to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and other top Democrats.

Darrin Schmitz, a senior consultant to Thompson, said in a statement that the former governor supported reform because the health care system was broken. “But when bipartisan talks broke down he publicly stated his opposition to what eventually became Obamacare,” Schmitz said. “Thompson believes that Obamacare must be repealed and replaced ... [and any] insinuation that Gov. Thompson has ever been in favor of Obamacare is absolutely false and a reflection of the desperation of the source.”

One Wisconsin Democratic strategist scoffed at the idea Thompson has always been against the law. “The ballet dance he is trying to do here is not going to fly in a Republican primary,” the source said.

On Friday, Neumann obliquely hit Thompson in a statement. “I’ve always been against all forms of Obamacare; from its first drafts to today,” he said.

Baldwin will have her own hill to climb on health care. There is a video of her from 2010 in which she says, “I actually was for a government takeover of health care, I was for a single-payer plan!” Expect to see that in a 30-second spot run against her in the general.

But she’ll use her personal story about illness as a child and having an insurance company deny her coverage, alongside what she’ll frame as a career fighting for affordable and accessible health care for all, to fight those attacks.

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