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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Will Dems Opposing HCR Lose Support in November?

This item by J.P. Green was first published on March 22, 2010
For many months now, we’ve been hearing the GOP threat that Democrats will pay dearly for supporting the health care reform package. Now might be a good time to ask conversely whether any House Dems who voted against the bill will lose support in November.
Most of the 34 Dems who crossed over to support the Republicans in the key vote should be safe, just because of the power of incumbency, which is strong even for members of the party in power in mid-term elections. One exception might be GA Democratic Rep. John Barrow, whose 12th congressional district, which stretches from Savannah to Augusta, includes 44 percent African American voters. Presidential nominee Obama cut an ad for Barrow in his last campaign, so Barrow’s negative HCR vote may alienate some of his district’s stronger supporters of President Obama and/or HCR. Barrow did defeat an African American primary challenger in 2008, but other Black leaders in his district must be wondering if they could unhorse Barrow in the Democratic primary.
Rep. Artur Davis (AL), the only African American congressman to oppose the HCR package, on the other hand, won’t be vulnerable to a primary challenge because he is running for Governor of Alabama. Davis won three of his terms by landslides and one with no opposition. Clearly, he sees his vote against HCR as a net asset for his gubernatorial campaign. He may be right, although even in AL, his HCR vote could hurt with state progressives in a close election.
Race would not be the only consideration, however, in assessing constituent disapproval of the votes against health care reform. A few of the 34 nay voters, including Heath Shuler (NC) and Stephen Lynch (MA) have substantial liberal enclaves/constituencies in their districts, which could make a difference as stay-at-homes in a close election.
Here is The Hill’s list of the 34 Dems who voted no on health care reform:

Rep. John Adler (N.J.)
Rep. Jason Altmire (Pa.)
Rep. Michael Arcuri (N.Y.)
Rep. John Barrow (Ga.)
Rep. Marion Berry (Ark.)
Rep. Dan Boren (Ind.)
Rep. Rick Boucher (Va.)
Rep. Bobby Bright (Ala.)
Rep. Ben Chandler (Ky.)
Rep. Travis Childers (Miss.)
Rep. Artur Davis (Ala.)
Rep. Lincoln Davis (Tenn.)
Rep. Chet Edwards (Texas)
Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D.)
Rep. Tim Holden (Pa.)
Rep. Larry Kissell (N.C.)
Rep. Frank Kratovil (Md.)
Rep. Dan Lipinski (Ill.)
Rep. Stephen Lynch (Mass.)
Rep. Jim Marshall (Ga.)
Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah)
Rep. Mike McIntyre (N.C.)
Rep. Mike McMahon (N.Y.)
Rep. Charlie Melancon (La.)
Rep. Walt Minnick (Idaho)
Rep. Glenn Nye (Va.)
Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.)
Rep. Mike Ross (Ark.)
Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.)
Rep. Ike Skelton (Mo.)
Rep. Zack Space (Ohio)
Rep. John Tanner (Tenn.)
Rep. Gene Taylor (Miss.)
Rep. Harry Teague (N.M.)

In addition to the power of incumbency, what these Dems have going for them is that it is late for primary challengers to start new campaigns, if they haven’t already. Some of the 34 will also likely be getting lots of love in the form of dough from insurance companies and the like.
I’m sure that some of the Dem nay voters acted on principle, though all probably saw their votes as a matter of political survival. Sad, however, that they chose to be part of the fear-driven past, rather than the hopeful future. They risked hurting their party, as well as the health of their constituents. As E.J. Dionne, Jr. put it in his WaPo column:

To understand how large a victory this is, consider what defeat would have meant. In light of the president’s decision to gamble all of his standing to get this bill passed, its failure would have crippled his presidency. The Democratic Congress would have become a laughing stock, incapable of winning on an issue that has been central to its identity since the days of Harry Truman.

For Dems there’s always the thorny problem of primary challenges usually helping the Republicans. Of course, Boehner and company will praise the 34 Dems to the hilt, and then do everything they can to replace them with Republicans, where possible. All of those who are running this year are banking to some extent on most HCR supporters forgiving and forgetting by November, which could be a dicey bet. And President Obama may have a Lincolnesque capacity for political forgiveness, but Rahm Emmanuel most emphatically does not.
It may not be fair to pigeon-hole all of these Dems as DINO’s, since they vote with their party most of the time. That’s life in the big tent. Still, progressive Dems can’t be blamed for asking, if they are not with us on such a central legislative reform, one which could save many lives and one which could have decided the President’s re-election chances, then who are they?

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