The botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act is the big issue in the races for two Arizona congressional districts — which are among the hottest races in the nation.
Republican candidates are trumpeting Obamacare as the reason Democratic Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick and Ron Barber won’t win re-election .
They’re making statements using words like “horrific,” “abhorrent” and “disastrous.” The attack ads have begun, and outside money will pay for much of the fight on both sides.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is “ready to commit significant resources” to help Republican candidates defeat Barber and Kirkpatrick, political director Rob Simms said last week.
He believes the two representatives are “exceptionally vulnerable” and give the party its best opportunities to pick up seats nationwide.
The Arizona chapter of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity already has spent at least $200,000 to target Barber and Kirkpatrick for their support of the Affordable Care Act.
Watch for liberal groups to pour in the money, too, said Kirkpatrick opponent Andy Tobin. “They will so overload this race with millions of dollars,” he said.
From the Democratic perspective, the strategy of attacking Democrats for the health law could work now, but it won’t be as relevant by the time next year’s election comes around, Phoenix-based party strategist Bob Grossfeld predicts.
“A month ago everybody’s bet would be the Republicans would take it in the shorts because they shut down the government,” Grossfeld said. “Here we are and they seem to have found a voice, but it’s a pretty temporary voice.”
By the summer of 2014, most provisions of the Affordable Care Act will be working and people will begin to understand what it’s really about, he said, stressing that the law is about a lot more than just a website.
With that, Democrats will be able to start touting what is actually in the law as opposed to playing defense, he said.
Since people in her Arizona district have been waiting to get quality, affordable health care for years, Kirkpatrick is not concerned about taking heat for the Affordable Care Act, her communications director Jennifer Johnson said.
“The fact is, the groups funding these attacks want to let insurance companies cancel coverage of people with pre-existing conditions or people under 26 who’ve been added to their parents’ plans,” Johnson wrote in an email.
“These groups want to let insurance companies keep the billions of dollars in rebates that are now being returned to customers when their premiums were not adequately spent on care. These attack groups don’t care one bit about Arizonans.”
The law has already worked to keep young adults on their parents’ insurance plans until they are 26. It also prevents lifetime caps on insurance coverage and prevents insurance companies from dropping or denying people coverage because of a pre-existing condition — something that has prevented sick adults and children from getting insurance for years.
IN DISTRICT 1
If the two sides agree on anything, it’s that the rollout was “disastrous.” Both Simms and Kirkpatrick used that word in recent campaign statements.
In an email to supporters, Kirkpatrick said she wants to help improve Obamacare. She told them she can take the attacks from opponents, and asked for donations to “fight back.” Her campaign raised at least $20,000 using that message last week.
Republican Tobin countered that Obamacare is beyond repair and needs to be replaced.
The new law is causing more economic uncertainty and killing jobs, he said. Premiums are going up, policies are getting canceled and business owners don’t know their options.
While describing Obamacare as a “horrific” law, Tobin continued that something needs to be done to help control the rising cost of health care so people can afford it. He would support high-risk pools and said more employers will be able to offer affordable health insurance when the economy is growing again.
Republican candidate Gary Kiehne, who favors repealing the law, said it’s too early to know how Obamacare will factor into the election cycle.
TV political ads paid for by outside groups rarely reach rural Arizona audiences, who make up much of the District 1 voter rolls, not to mention potential changes in the law and political climate in the year leading up to the election.
Republican candidate Adam Kwasman, who fought the expansion of Arizona’s Medicaid program this year, said the idea of repealing the law has never been more popular and that will help his campaign.
“I believe the voters are looking for someone who has been a consistent voice against Obamacare,” he said. In its place, he said he would support more tax-free health savings accounts and free- market alternatives for insurance coverage.
IN DISTRICT 2
Barber was not in office when the law was passed, but that hasn’t stopped opponents from using the new law against him on the campaign trail. He supports a law that Americans for Prosperity’s Arizona director, Tom Jenney, calls “fundamentally flawed.”
“Obamacare is going to hurt seniors, the working poor, the employees and owners of small businesses, younger workers, and many others who are shopping for affordable health insurance for themselves and their families,” Jenney said.
Barber has said he supports most provisions of the law, but has been critical of problems with the healthcare.gov website.
“Ron Barber puts doing right by the people of Arizona ahead of what his political party wants to do,” Barber’s 2014 campaign spokesman, Rodd McLeod, said.
McLeod noted that Barber has never said the law is perfect and has been criticized by members of his own party for some of the ways he’d like to change it. He voted to delay charging fines because the website hasn’t been working, and voted to let people keep their insurance plan if they like them.
But Barber is against repealing the Affordable Care Act because it does a lot of good for people, McLeod emphasized.
“The Republicans in Congress want to repeal all that and put insurance companies back in charge of America’s health care? If that is what they want to run on, I look forward to it,” McLeod said.
If the law were to be overturned, it would instantly make prescription medicine more expensive for seniors, insurance companies could drop sick people the minute they want to have expensive surgery and women would be charged more than men just because of their gender, he said.
“This law is an attempt to give more value to consumers and drive the industry to focus more on prevention,” he said. “It is going to require tweaks, but (House Speaker John) Boehner and the Republicans don’t have a plan.”
Republican candidate Martha McSally said Barber is part of a “broken health-care bureaucracy.”
“With Southern Arizonans directly impacted by the broken promises and failed implementation of Obamacare, Congressman Barber’s support for Obamacare is definitely a top concern of voters Martha is meeting every day,” said McSally’s campaign spokeswoman, Kristen Douglas.
McSally supports “a fresh approach to this problem that is focused on patients and health-care choice,” Douglas said in an email.
In CD2, Republican Shelley Kais said voters are as concerned as ever about availability, accessibility and affordability of health care.
Obamacare isn’t working, she said, and she’s not sure it’s salvageable. It would be best to start over on health reform, Kais said.
“If we’re still talking about this next August, we have a real problem in our country,” she said.
Republican Ed Martin supports freezing the law and working through it in pieces.
A bipartisan compromise could be reached, he said, requiring most people to have at least catastrophic coverage but letting them choose whatever health-insurance plan best meets their needs, along with other tweaks in health-care regulation.