If you’re running in a congressional primary next year, health care is already your number-one worry — especially if you’re an Obamacare booster.
In Massachusetts, for example, all four Democrats running for Teddy Kennedy’s former Senate seat broadly agree on the merits of Reid’s bill, but split when it comes to specifics. Finding a way to distinguish oneself has become a blood sport. Rep. Michael Capuano (D., Mass.), one of the candidates, says that after watching the Stupak amendment pass in the House, he wouldn’t vote for a final health-care bill that lacks at least some coverage for abortion. That comment prompted Steve Pagliuca, another Bay State contender and co-owner of the Boston Celtics, to snap that Capuano’s concerns over Stupak were akin to Sarah Palin’s “death panels” comment.
In Pennsylvania, Sen. Arlen Specter has been battling for months with his Democratic primary opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak, over the details of health-care reform. If Sestak moves left, Specter immediately issues a harder-left statement via Twitter. This same kind of sniping is also happening in lower-profile Democratic primary campaigns, from Illinois to Ohio.
The growing concern for Democrats is that if the Senate debate seeps into 2010, more Democratic squabbles will surely dribble out of the cloakroom and into primary campaigns, which may force incumbents to tack left just when Reid needs them to hold steady. This reality leaves many Democratic senators running for re-election next year facing a difficult choice: Play ball with Reid now and get called a sell-out by your pesky lefty primary foe, or move to the left of Reid (“This bill must have a heavy-duty public option! Or else!”) and get tagged as an obstructionist. Freshman Sen. Michael Bennet (D., Colo.) is one of a handful in such a pickle.
Martha Coakley, another Senate candidate in Massachusetts, recently enlisted Bill Clinton to record a phone message touting her as someone who will go to Washington to fight for “health reform with a strong public option.” Massachusetts voters will head to the polls tomorrow to pick their candidate. Senate Democrats running in 2010 will likely keep close tabs on the result, and the health-care position of the winner, as they sketch out their own primary strategies.