There are some important lessons for upcoming Republican primaries to be drawn from last week’s runoff in Mississippi — and not just that Democrats put Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., back in office for another six years.
That’s not just what Mississippi and national newspapers are reporting, that is the inescapable conclusion drawn from data collected by GEB International, which, on behalf of Independent Women’s Voice, conducted an Election Day survey of voters in the Mississippi GOP Senate runoff contest pitting Cochran against challenger Chris McDaniel.
But what may be of more long-term strategic interest — to both long-term incumbents and the challengers who seek to replace them — is, what was the policy issue that fueled McDaniel’s threat? Was it spending? The economy and jobs? The debt? Amnesty? Nope.
Wait. Obamacare, unpopular as it is, is an issue that is supposed to cut against Democrats, not Republicans — and especially not against Republicans who voted against it on final passage, and then voted against it or parts of it seemingly every chance they got. How is it that Obamacare became an issue in the GOP Senate primary in Mississippi?
Simply put, because Obamacare has become a meta-issue. It is the one-word encapsulation of everything wrong with the Obama presidency — a Big-Government-knows-best, healthcare-choice-diminishing, mandate-lording, big-spending, high-taxing, liberty-reducing, “laws be damned, I’m going to change things by executive fiat 38 times” program that offends everyone with any sense of what self-government in a Constitutional republic actually means.
The GEB International survey — which polled 500 likely-voting likely Mississippi Republicans, using live callers, with a margin of error of +/- 4.38 percent — asked open-ended questions of those who said they had voted for McDaniel to find out what were the biggest reasons they voted for Chris McDaniel. Veterans who have read surveys know this sort of open-ended question, and know that it will yield a long list of responses.
Not surprisingly, the top answers given were variations on the same theme — Cochran had been in office too long.
But the first actual policy issue that dominated was Obamacare — it was more important to voters than was McDaniel’s stand on spending, the budget, or the national debt combined.
And in a follow-up question, when voters were asked to pick from a list of six possible reasons for voting for McDaniel over Cochran, beating all other policy issues with 18% was that McDaniel has pledged to repeal Obamacare. (McDaniel has signed the IWV Repeal Pledge while Cochran has not.) That was further compounded by 11% who responded that their top reason was Cochran’s failure to vote to defund Obamacare when he had the chance, and another 9% who responded that it was the fact that Cochran accepts the special Congressional exemption from Obamacare.
That’s almost four in ten McDaniel supporters who listed some aspect of Obamacare – and Cochran’s perceived weakness on the issue — as their top reason for supporting McDaniel’s challenge against Cochran.
Obamacare — and the special Congressional exemption — remain a potent political force, even in GOP primary elections.
For instance, among those voters who recalled receiving a phone call explaining Cochran’s acceptance of the special Congressional exemption for Obamacare, McDaniel won by 47 percent-44 percent, while those who said they did not recall the phone call voted 44%-41% for Cochran, a 6-point swing; among those who said they recalled receiving a piece of mail explaining Cochran’s acceptance of the special Congressional exemption for Obamacare, McDaniel won by 47%-45%, while those who said they did not recall the mail piece voted for Cochran by 46-40 percent, an 8-point swing.
Message to incumbents: It’s not just the words, it’s the music – don’t just vote against Obamacare when you get the chance, fight it and demand there be votes on things that actually have a chance of passage even with this administration, including the No Bailouts bill for insurance companies, or the Vitter-DeSantis language undoing the Congressional exemption. Sign the Obamacare Repeal Pledge, reject the special congressional exemption, and brag on it by signing the No Washington Exemption Petition.
Message to challengers: If the incumbent you’re challenging accepts the special exemption from Obamacare and hasn’t signed the Repeal Pledge, you should sign the Repeal Pledge, sign the No Washington Exemption Petition, and then put a significant portion of your communications budget behind that contrast.
There are better solutions to our health care challenges that Orwellian health care bill which has made a travesty of its own promises and made life worse for more people than it has helped. The American people know this, and are wanting representatives who will insist on a better way. Politicians who want that trust need to earn it.
Heather Higgins is president and CEO of Independent Women’s Voice. William W. Pascoe III consults on political strategy with IWV.