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August is Walloping Democrats, Again

August is the cruelest month…for Democrats, it seems. Driving the news today is a new Gallup poll that shows Republicans holding an unprecedented 10 point lead over Democrats on a generic ballot. Other polls indicate the spread is closer to 5 or 6 points, and all politics are ultimately local, not generic, but the new poll has rightly stoked fears of November being a “wave” election for Republicans.

Compounding the bad news for Democrats is a new Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, which shows that the slow but steady gains in popularity made by the health care reform bill since passage have been wiped out:

The August Health Tracking Poll finds that support for health reform fell over the course of August, dipping from a 50 percent favorability rating in July to 43 percent, while 45 percent of the public reported unfavorable views. The dip in favorability returned public opinion on the new law to the even split last seen in May before a modest uptick in support in June and July.

The drop in support for the health care reform bill is no doubt due in part to a barrage of negative advertising that residents around the country, but especially in swing districts in states like Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, have been exposed to. The backlash is bad enough, it seems, that even progressive groups like Health Care for America Now (HCAN), which fought hard to pass health care reform, are attempting to take the issue off the table when they work to reelect lawmakers who voted for the bill:

Now, HCAN’s field crews are finding that the best way to support reform-friendly lawmakers is to talk about something else: jobs, the economy or other issues likely to resonate more with voters.

“We want to be flexible in talking about what is most relevant to constituents, whatever issues are most motivational,” said HCAN’s national field director, Margarida Jorge, who organizes a daily call with their partner organizations. “We can have a high level of focus on health care but also understand at times the focus is going to shift.” [...]

But what HCAN describes as a tactical shift, reform opponents see as proof that the law is unpopular, a loser for Democrats in a tough election cycle. “Voters don’t like health reform and they know that,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former CBO director who now works with the American Action Forum on their Operation Healthcare Choice project. “Independents are key to control; health reform is unpopular but jobs and economy could move votes. When it comes to substance, on health reform, they’re in bad shape.”

HCAN’s move seems like the wrong tactic. By side-stepping the debate, the group only further cedes the field for groups like the American Action Forum, along with its network of loosely affiliated conservative nonprofits that includes American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, to define the issue through a rash of advertising this election cycle. But in a tough electoral season, the group would rather seek ways to keep legislators who voted for the bill in office than pick fights with detractors about the bill itself.

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