Senate Democrats Not Hearing from Ted Cruz’s Grassroots Army Yet

by Betsy Woodruff

Senator Ted Cruz knows that the Democratic Senate isn’t inclined to vote for a bill that will defund Obamacare, as he hopes, but he insists there is a way: a groundswell of pressure from constituents who don’t like the law. 

On August 5, he argued the only way to win the push to defund the Affordable Care Act was for a “grassroots army” to “rise up and demand it,” swaying Democrats and reluctant Republicans. On Fox News Sunday this week, he emphasized that grassroots pressure could push red-state Democrats into the defund camp.

“If you’re a Mark Pryor, if you’re a Mary Landrieu, running for reelection in Arkansas and Louisiana, and you start to get 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, calls from your constituents, suddenly, it changes the calculus entirely,” he said.

Today I asked a number of red- and purple-state Democratic senators if they received a large number of calls from their constituents supporting efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act. Here’s what I heard:

Senator Jon Tester of Montana, where Romney won 55 percent of the vote, when I asked if he’d gotten thousands of phone calls: “Oh gosh, no. Uh-uh. No. And I’m not encouraging people to light up the phone lines. I mean, no.”

Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, who faces a tough reelection bid in 2014: “We get calls on all the sides.” I asked if he’d gotten upwards of 5,000, and he said, “No.”

Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina, who’s up for reelection in 2014 in a state where Romney won 50 percent of the vote: “No, not 5,000. We certainly do get phone calls, and we certainly listen to the people in North Carolina.”

Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who’s also up for reelection in 2014, wouldn’t answer.

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia tells me he hasn’t gotten anything in the ballpark of 5,000 phone calls. I asked if he felt pressured by grassroots activists, and he said, with a laugh, “No, no pressure. No, no.”

When asked if he’d gotten an outsize number of phone calls advocating that he support the efforts to defund, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said, “Absolutely not. In fact, there’s a grassroots army of Americans who are frustrated with the kind of gamesmanship that’s going on.”

Senator Tim Kaine, also of Virginia said, “Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing out of the ordinary.”

Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio said, “No. I mean, there could be organized phone calls, there aren’t even that many of those. But there’s certainly no groundswell.”

Senator Claire McCaskill said, “Certainly there is a group of extremists that are the small minority in this country that think it’s a good idea to throw the American people under the bus to make a political point.” I asked if she had gotten thousands of phone calls on the issue, and she said, “I’m getting thousands of phone calls. I’m getting them on both sides.”

Of course, the above Democratic legislators may not be entirely frank in relating the amount of anti-Obamacare sentiment from constituents.

In an e-mail today, Matt Hoskins of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which supports the defund strategy, explained why his group didn’t run ads encouraging activists to target red-state Democrats with phone calls.

“The first stage of this campaign is to convince Republicans to hold firm and to stop all funding for Obamacare,” he wrote. “Once that is done, we will begin working to convince willing Democrats to admit Obamacare is not what they intended and to join us in stopping Obamacare funding.”