Monday, October 18, 2010
Seven months ago, Speaker Nancy Pelosi spent a busy week rounding up votes to pass the Senate version of the Democrats' health care legislation.
It wasn't easy. She had to get Democrats who had voted no in November to switch to yes in March. And she had to get Democrats who had refused to vote for the bill in November without an anti-abortion amendment to vote for a bill in March that lacked that language.
She took the unusual step of scheduling the roll call for Saturday -- so members wouldn't go back to their districts and be besieged by Obamacare opponents.
Those opponents, according to polls at that time, included most American voters. But Pelosi, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton predicted the bill would become more popular after it was passed (and, Pelosi said, after people had a chance to read it).
National polls indicate that hasn't happened yet. But what about the districts of the House Democrats who cast the key votes that made Obamacare law? Those Democrats have an interest in persuading constituents of the law's merits. So how are they doing?
In general, not very well.
Take Betsy Markey of Colorado 4, who in 2008 beat a Republican who seemed fixated on the same-sex marriage issue. Markey cast a late-in-the-roll-call no in November, then publicly switched to yes in the week before the March 21 roll call. She's currently trailing Republican Cory Gardiner by an average of 44 to 39 percent in three polls. Her website links to a video she cut the week after the vote saying she had "the honor" to vote for the bill. But otherwise it seems to be silent on the issue.
Or consider John Boccieri of Ohio 16, who switched from no to yes in a TV press conference in which he said the bill would do great things for his constituents. Boccieri's district was represented by Republicans for 58 years until he was elected in 2008.
It looks like it will be again next year. In three polls, Republican Jim Renacci leads Boccieri by an average of 46 percent to 36 percent. Boccieri's website links to a recent interview in which he defends Obamacare and challenges opponents to say which provisions they'd give up.
Then there is Suzanne Kosmas, a longtime real estate agent who beat a Republican with an ethics issue in 2008. She announced her switch from no to yes late in the week before the roll call. She's now running behind Republican Sandy Adams by an average of 47 percent to 40 percent in three recent polls.
To put these numbers in perspective, it's highly unusual for an incumbent House member to trail a challenger in any poll or to run significantly below 50 percent. But these three Democrats are running 5 to 10 points behind Republican challengers, and none tops 40 percent.
At least they're running, which is more than can be said for Bart Stupak of Michigan 1, the chief sponsor of the anti-abortion amendment that he forced onto the House bill in November. Just hours before the March roll call, he was persuaded that an executive order, which he was assured Barack Obama would sign, would have the same effect.
Legal experts and strong abortion opponents disagreed. But Stupak cast a critical vote for the bill, as did five other Democrats widely referred to as "the Stupak five," who flanked him at his press conference. If these six votes had gone the other way, Obama would have been defeated.
Stupak promptly announced he was retiring after 18 years. Republican Dan Benishek is currently leading there by an average of 44 percent to 27 percent in five polls.
Two of the Stupak five, freshmen Steve Driehaus of Ohio 1 and Kathy Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania 3, are in dreadful shape. Driehaus trails by an average 51 percent to 41 percent in his Cincinnati-area district; Dahlkemper trails by an average of 45 percent to 37 percent in her Erie-area seat.
Another two are from West Virginia. Alan Mollohan, first elected in 1982, lost in the May primary; Nick Joe Rahall, first elected in 1976, won his primary and seems well ahead for November.
Doing best is Marcy Kaptur of Ohio 9, first elected in 1982. Her Republican opponent reportedly wears Nazi uniforms in World War II re-enactments.
But that's an exception. The rule seems to be that casting a decisive vote for Obamacare tends to be a career-ender.
Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.
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