David Jolly and Obamacare, One More Time

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 13 2014 8:56 AM

David Jolly and Obamacare, One More Time

Jake Sherman and Burgess Everett are out with a fun post-mortem on FL-13, a children's treasury of Democratic squirming. (Note to politicians: If you dodge an interview and pledge to call back later, then don't, the reporter can write that.) The only problem I see with it is a reference to "Jolly’s nearly singular focus on the health care law."

By no means should Democrats deny that Obamacare hurt them in this race—it was a test, and the Republicans won it. But Jolly's particular focus on the law was not total. He did not mention it in his November announcement speech, at a moment when the cancellation of health plans was the major national political story. In his debate appearances and campaign ads, Jolly reached for Obamacare like a special sauce, to be used to complement everything else on the plate. The ads aren't embeddable, but they can be seen at these links.

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In "Where I Stand," Jolly stood before a backdrop of Florida scenery and, sort of strangely, faded in and out as he said he supported a "balanced budget" and "supporting our veterans" and, yes, repealing Obamacare.

In "The Difference," Jolly sat reading the paper as one of the infamous clips of President Obama saying "if you like your health care plan ... " played. "Now my opponent is saying things she knows aren't true." He promised to "repeal Obamacare, period."

In "Jessica's Law," Jolly received an on-camera endorsement from Mark Lunsford, the father of a disappeared girl and, for a while, the face for the campaign for the eponymous law. No mention of Obamacare there, just credit for Jolly (then a staffer) for "fully funding" the law.

In "Two Reasons," Jolly introduced voters to his mother and aunt and promised he would not touch their Social Security payments. They were really in danger, he said (in sort of a non sequitur), because Obamacare had cut Medicare and forced "many to lose their insurance and their doctors."

Jolly didn't just run around the district pledging to repeal Obamacare. He told a whiter, older electorate than had voted in 2012 that Obamacare was the reason they might lose coverage—oh, also that he learned his craft under Bill Young, that he was from Pinellas County, that he helped fund Jessica's law, and that he was a reliable conservative. It's wrong to say he ran on Obamacare alone, and impossible to say that Obamacare helped Alex Sink. And that's what Democrats need to figure out. They did not expect, in 2014, for the law to be anything but popular. They did not expect half of the states—most of the ones with competitive Senate races—to have said "nah, no thanks" to Medicaid expansion. But they haven't figured out how to sell what people might like about the law or talk to the people who feel they've been wounded by it.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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