Health Overhaul May Have Helped Capsize Mass. Democrat

News reports ruminated Wednesday on a key question: How did the Massachusetts Senate seat left behind by Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy fall into Republican hands?

"[M]uch of the explanation of Republicans' Massachusetts miracle surely lies in two giant factors: an economy that is largely beyond Democrats' control, and a failure to close out a health-care debate that certainly has been within their control," according to The Wall Street Journal's Capital Journal (Seib, 1/20).

"Scott Brown's opposition to congressional health care legislation was the most important issue that fueled his U.S. Senate victory in Massachusetts, according to exit poll data collected following the Tuesday special election," Politico reports. The poll was conducted by a Republican firm; no news organizations conducted independent exit polls for this election (Catanese, 1/20).

Just how central the health reform issue was to Tuesday election, however, "was difficult to gauge," The New York Times reports. "That is because Massachusetts already has near-universal health coverage, thanks to a law passed when Mitt Romney, a Republican, was governor. Therefore, Massachusetts may have little to gain from the overhaul, "making it an unlikely place for a referendum on the [federal] health care bill" (Cooper, 1/19).

BusinessWeek : Republicans seized on the vote as the litmus test for President Obama's push at health reform. "'There's a reason the nation was focused on this race: The voters in Massachusetts have made it abundantly clear where they stand on health care,' Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a statement. 'They don't want this bill.' In 2006, Brown voted as a state senator for a Massachusetts universal health-care bill that has been used as a model by the president's administration" (Przybyla and McCormick, 1/20).

If Democrats don't manage to pass a bill, "former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he expects it will be a long time before Congress revisits the issue," The Gainesville Sun reports. But, "Even before the results were known, Daschle was distancing the race from the health-care debate." He noted Massachusetts own reform efforts, which Brown himself backed (Crabbe, 1/20).

Some Democrats, looking ahead to this year's elections, worry "Obama's healthcare bill has helped turn independent voters -- who fueled his presidential campaign to victory -- into antagonists," the Los Angeles Times reports. Another factor is that, as one Democratic pollster puts it, "The strongest dynamic in politics today is . . . about outsiders versus insiders" (Hook and Levey, 1/20).

The Obama administration appeared to be reacting to voters' message, The New York Times reports in a separate story: "Even before the polls closed, the White House was suggesting the outlines of a recovery strategy, a combination of a more populist tone and an embrace of greater fiscal responsibility"  (Nagourney, 1/19).

"The fight over health care … appears to be reaching a fever pitch locally and nationally," despite having simmered for nearly a year, the Milkaukee Journal Sentinel reports. "Even if the Democrats do get their reform bill through Congress - and to President Barack Obama's desk for signature - the issue will likely continue to resonate with the public all the way to the 2010 midterm elections" (Glauber and Marrero, 1/19). 

For KHN related Daily Report coverage, see Health Reform: Divided Democrats Consider Next Steps (1/19).

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