|GOP takes aim at vulnerable Dems in health war
By: Alex Isenstadt
November 9, 2009 04:14 AM EST
|Within minutes of Saturday’s historic House vote on health care reform, Republicans pronounced the political death of Rep. Thomas Perriello (D-Va.), pointing to the vulnerable freshman congressman’s vote in favor of the bill.
And in the aftermath of the politically charged vote, Perriello wasn’t the only Democratic congressman whose fortunes were being reassessed. The GOP, which voted nearly in lock step against the measure, began crowing about the demise of various other vulnerable members and seized on the moment as a milestone in the path back to a House majority.
Other than Perriello — who was the target of 12 consecutive postvote GOP e-mails accusing him of breaking his promises — a handful of members immediately stood out for casting especially tough votes.
Three of them are junior legislators from highly competitive Ohio districts: first-term Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy and Steve Driehaus, and Rep. Zack Space, a second-term Democrat from a district that backed GOP presidential candidate John McCain in 2008.
Kilroy, who is facing a 2010 rematch against the Republican she narrowly defeated by 2,300 votes last year, took to the House floor Saturday morning to declare her support for the bill.
“This is a moral issue,” Kilroy said, in a speech that noted her own trials with multiple sclerosis.
Driehaus, like Kilroy a freshman Democrat who is facing a rematch with his 2008 opponent, former GOP Rep. Steve Chabot, voted for the health care bill only after it was stripped of funding for abortion.
“This isn’t about politics,” Driehaus told POLITICO before stepping into the chamber to cast his vote. “It’s about doing what’s right for the American people. I haven’t thought a minute politically what this might mean. This is about doing the right thing.”
For Perriello, Kilroy, Driehaus and Space, the health care bill represented their second exceptionally tough vote this year — the other was on the cap-and-trade bill — meaning they’ve essentially doubled down on the ambitious national Democratic agenda.
New York Democratic Rep. Bill Owens, who was sworn into office earlier this week after winning a closely watched special election, may also find that he sinks or swims with the national party next year.
Winning narrowly in what was originally a three-way contest, Owens voted for Saturday’s bill after holding an ambiguous position regarding a public option. It didn’t take the National Republican Congressional Committee long to pounce, saying his vote “could be the quickest broken promise in the history of Congress.”
On the whole, however, many Democrats sitting in politically marginal seats took the path of least resistance. Of the 39 Democrats who voted against the $1.2 trillion package, 31 hail from districts McCain won in 2008. And seven of the 10 Democrats rated as most endangered by The Cook Political Report also voted “no.”
Rep. Frank Kratovil Jr., a freshman Democrat from a Maryland district that McCain won with 58 percent of the vote and who is facing a prospective rematch with the GOP opponent he narrowly defeated, announced Friday that the legislation did not sufficiently rein in costs and that he wasn’t satisfied it was a “sustainable solution.”
Rep. Walt Minnick, a first-term Democrat from an Idaho district where McCain won 62 percent, said Friday he opposed the bill because it didn’t do enough to limit health care costs.
Alabama Rep. Bobby Bright, whose Montgomery-based district McCain won with 63 percent of the vote, said before the vote that he couldn’t support the bill because of cost concerns and a government-run public option.
“I’m voting for what the majority of what my constituents want,” Bright told POLITICO Saturday before stepping into the chamber to vote. “I consider myself a spokesman for my district.”
The lone Republican to vote for the bill, Louisiana Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, also had a compelling reason to break ranks — the freshman represents a heavily African-American, solidly Democratic district. The six House Democrats running for statewide office had their own unique political calculus to consider. For Reps. Neil Abercrombie, seeking the Hawaii governorship, and Joe Sestak, running for Senate in Pennsylvania, the votes were relatively painless — Abercrombie is running in a heavily Democratic state, and Sestak is challenging Sen. Arlen Specter in a Democratic primary where he is running to Specter’s left.
The four others split on the vote. For Rep. Charlie Melancon, a conservative Blue Dog Democrat running for Senate in Louisiana — where the national Democratic Party is no asset at the moment — a “no” vote was probably the price of admission for running statewide. Rep. Artur Davis, who is running for governor in conservative Alabama, found himself in a similar situation. As his Democratic colleagues whooped and hollered in celebration after passage, Davis was seen crossing his arms, his face expressionless.
In New Hampshire, Rep. Paul Hodes, the likely Democratic nominee for the open Senate seat, came down in favor of the vote — no easy decision, since he has come under fire on the issue after allegedly ducking town hall meetings this summer.
In Florida, Rep. Kendrick Meek, like Hodes the likely Democratic nominee in an open Senate contest next year, also voted “yes.”
Republicans made clear that Saturday’s vote would be a centerpiece issue in 2010.
“There will be a price to pay,” NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas told POLITICO before heading to the floor to vote. “This will be a gift that keeps on giving.”
Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, didn’t seem worried.
“Their constituents voted for them to make big decisions for the country,” Van Hollen said after the vote.