WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama, emboldened by the Supreme Court’s affirmation of his health care overhaul, is embracing the law while campaigning for re-election, just as Republican rival Mitt Romney steps back from it.
Obama sees a second chance to sell voters on the issue despite deep skepticism about it from many people. Romney is avoiding answering hard questions about how he would tackle health care, and thus missing the chance to energize voters who oppose the law.
Democrats say the president always planned to stress health care if the court upheld the law. A month after the ruling, he and his team are focused on promoting individual parts of the law that have proved more popular than the sum. The campaign is targeting its efforts on important groups of voters, including women and Hispanics, who, Obama aides say, will benefit greatly once the law takes full effect.
Before the decision, Obama did mention the law in campaign events. But the case he made to voters was hardly vigorous, considering the time he dedicated to overhaul during his first year in office.
The primary focus of his campaign speeches remains the economy, the race’s dominant issue. But the Supreme Court’s favorable ruling appears to have freed Obama to speak about the health law more passionately and emphatically than before the case was decided. His campaign also is running a TV advertisement in eight of the most contested states that criticizes Romney for opposing mandatory health insurance coverage for contraception; that provision is in Obama’s overhaul. A health care-focused Spanish-language ad is running in Nevada, Colorado and Florida.
“The Supreme Court has spoken,” Obama told a cheering crowd at a recent fundraiser in New Orleans. “We are going to implement this law.”
During an event near Seattle, Obama said passing the law was “the right thing to do,” and he highlighted parts that his campaign believes resonate well with voters.
“Young people will be able to stay on their parents’ plans till they’re 26 years old,” Obama said. “Women won’t be getting charged more than men, and you’ll be getting free preventive care. Seniors will see the cost of their prescription drugs go down. If you don’t have health insurance we’re going to help you get it.”
His campaign has been aggressive in selling the health overhaul to women.
During a speech to female bloggers Thursday, the president said he’s “not going to give any ground to those who would deny women their own health care choices.”
Romney, who declared the overhaul a “bad law” after the court ruled, has become less aggressive and less expansive in his discussion of health care.
At some recent events, Romney hasn’t talked about the issue at all. On Friday, while campaigning in Las Vegas, he made one brief mention of “Obamacare”, pledging to get rid of it and return health care “to a setting of personal responsibility.”
Romney hasn’t featured health care prominently in any television ads since the ruling June 28, but has made a few high-profile comments. The Republican was booed repeatedly during a July speech to the NAACP when he pledged to repeal the law if elected.
He “has and will continue to discuss the president’s failures on health care,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said, adding that the candidate “will deliver a new direction and will take action to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
In a deadlocked race, Romney is hampered by his support for a health care measure similar to Obama’s while he was Massachusetts governor. Also, Romney’s calls for repeal raise complex questions about what he would do in place of the law; those are questions Romney has struggled to answer.
For Obama, there’s a political risk in fully embracing his health care overhaul because the law remains unpopular with many.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in early July showed 47 percent of Americans supporting the law and 47 percent opposing it.
Yet the Obama campaign has been heartened by polls suggesting many people are ready to put the health care debate behind them.
For example, 56 percent of those questioned said they wanted to see the law’s critics move on to other issues and stop their efforts to block the law from taking effect, according to a poll in early July by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Half of independent voters were among those who wanted to see lawmakers move on to other issues.
“Tens of millions of Americans are already reaping the benefits of health reform, and, now that the court has ruled, want to turn the page from the partisan fights of the last two years over its repeal,” said Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager.
The way Obama and Romney have approached health care following the Supreme Court ruling isn’t necessarily trickling down to state and local elections. For some Democrats, particularly those in more moderate or conservative districts, supporting the president’s health care overhaul remains a significant electoral liability. For some Republicans, especially those in the House, running to repeal the law can be a guaranteed way to energize supporters.