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Republicans hope midterm voters forget all about ‘repeal and replace Obamacare’

A survey of candidates' issue pages find many have repealed and replaced their "repeal and replace" rhetoric.

Citizens protested at a 2017 Senate hearing on a GOP proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Citizens protested at a 2017 Senate hearing on a GOP proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act. CREDIT: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Once upon a time, Republicans made Obamacare an albatross for Democrats and made their vow to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act a centerpiece of their 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016 campaigns. Then they got control of the government and repeatedly failed to keep that promise — as the law’s popularity hit all-time highs.

Now, suddenly Republican lawmakers and candidates are on the defensive for their desire to strip an estimated 23 million Americans of their healthcare coverage: Candidates are no longer running on the issue. A ThinkProgress review of key Senate candidates’ websites found more than a third omitted or hid the issue entirely.

As recently as November 2016, the National Republican Senatorial Committee — the campaign arm of the Senate Republicans — made its closing argument for why it should hold onto the Senate, highlighting the anti-Obamacare message. “While the American people have fewer choices on the ObamaCare exchanges, they could not have a clearer one at the ballot box,” their communications director claimed. “Republican Senators are working to repeal and replace ObamaCare; Democrat [sic] challengers are hoping to expand it.”

According to the Cook Political Report’s most recent Senate race ratings, 12 seats currently held by Democrats and 6 currently held by Republicans could be in play this November. A few nomination contests are not yet decided. ThinkProgress looked at 23 major Republican candidates’ sites, 10 of which were from the closest races. Roughly half either did not mention their support for “repeal and replace” or hid the information away from their main “issues” page.

These included:

Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL), whose issues page makes no mention of Obamacare, but does include information about term limits, line-item veto, and a proposal to make tax increases more difficult. As governor of Florida, he refused to expand Medicaid and advocated for Obamacare’s repeal.

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Attorney General Josh Hawley (R-MO), who has no issues page on his site, but does note in his biography that he played a role in the Hobby Lobby challenge to the Obamacare contraception mandate. In his 2016 campaign for Missouri Attorney General, he railed against the Affordable Care Act.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R-WV), whose issues page makes no mention of Obamacare, but does highlight his opposition to abortion rights, gun restrictions, and “sanctuary cities.” He has previously attacked incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin (D) for his alleged unwillingness to “change” Obamacare.

Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who has no issues page on her site, but does boast that she has “what it takes not only to win” but to also “to get things done in D.C.” As a U.S. Representative, she voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017.

Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R-AZ), whose issues page makes no mention of Obamacare, but does note his support for tax cuts, his opposition to the national debt, and his virulent opposition to immigration.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), whose about page makes no mention of Obamacare, but does note that she would work in the Senate to support tax cuts, gun rights, “President Trump’s immigration ban,” and anti-abortion legislation. As a U.S. Representative, she voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017. Interestingly, she does mention her continued commitment to “returning health care to a patient-centered system” on a hidden issues page that is not linked from the main site.

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John James (R-MI), whose issues page makes no mention of Obamacare, but does note his opposition to abortion rights, gun restrictions, the national debt, and “sanctuary cities.”

Sandy Pensler (R-MI), whose issues page makes no mention of Obamacare, but does state his desire to “crack down” on illegal immigration, take away abortion rights, and fight gun restrictions.

Kevin Nicholson (R-WI), whose issues pages makes no mention of Obamacare, but does include his support for lower taxes and spending, national security, and “Wisconsin values.”

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), whose issues pages makes no mention of Obamacare, but does include her support for Israel, gun rights, abortion restrictions, and tax cuts. On a separate bio page, she does claim that she is committed to “finishing the fight to repeal Obamacare.”

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE), who has no issues page on her site, but did repeatedly vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017.

Even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who caused a 2013 government shutdown in an attempt to eliminate Obamacare and repeatedly vote to repeal the law in 2017, has effectively hidden the issue from his site, mentioning his commitment to repeal on a sub-page on “jobs and opportunity.”

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These candidates’ desire to keep the issue away from the fore is understandable.  A PPP poll released Monday found that voters preferred — by a 56 to 40 majority — generic congressional Democratic candidates who want to strengthen the Affordable Care Act over Republican candidates who want to repeal it.