Health Care Vote Only a Part of Democrats’ Vulnerability

November 5, 2010

By KEVIN SACK, The New York Times

ATLANTA — In the end, it may have mattered less whether vulnerable Democratic incumbents voted for or against the health care law than that they simply had a D by their names.

Virtually every House Democrat from a swing district who took a gamble by voting for the health law made a bad political bet. Among 22 who provided crucial yes votes from particularly risky districts, 19 ended up losing on Tuesday. That included all five members who voted against a more expensive House version last November and then changed their votes to support the final legislation in March.

But even the Democrats who bucked the White House and their party’s leadership by voting against the measure gained little protection. Of the 30 Democrats who opposed the final bill and then stood for re-election, 17 lost anyway.

Indeed, among 49 Democratic incumbents who lost on Tuesday, 32 had voted for the health care law and 17 against it.

Douglas J. Holtz-Eakin, who advised Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign on health care and economic issues, said voters had rebuked the Democrats in part because they had devoted more than a year to health care rather than jobs, and because the bill had become emblematic of overreaching.

“So it didn’t matter which way you voted,” he said. “If you’re a Democrat, you got punished.”

Surveys of voters leaving the polls found deep division over the health law. Nearly half of voters — 48 percent — said they thought it should be repealed, while 31 percent said Congress should expand it and 16 percent said it should be left as is.

“When pollsters asked, voters listed health reform among the top issues on their mind, which is no surprise after a long, heated debate,” said Drew E. Altman, president of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which conducts health policy research. “But there is little evidence that it was decisive in the vote.”

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