Rough health law fallout tightens key Senate races
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Thanks to the fiasco that followed the launch of President Barack Obama’s health care law, Democrats are bracing for hard-fought Senate races in states they hoped to win with ease just two months ago.
Weeks of technical problems with the health insurance enrollment website and anxiety over insurance cancellations for millions of people have erased early advantages enjoyed by Democratic candidates Gary Peters in Michigan and Mark Udall in Colorado.
As the election year dawns, those problems have widened the narrow opening for Republicans to retake control of the Senate.
“There’s not a lot of wiggle room here. Colorado is definitely in play,” said Craig Hughes, a Denver-based Democratic consultant who ran Obama’s 2012 Colorado campaign and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet’s 2010 campaign. “The website was a disaster, and the process of changing insurance is inherently difficult. This is not going to be a smooth process.”
Republicans need to pick up six seats to win the Senate in a midterm election year that typically hurts the party in the White House.
A victory in either Michigan or Colorado — both carried by Obama in 2012 and 2008 — would greatly boost their chances. Democrats already are defending Senate seats in seven states that Obama won, including three where incumbents are retiring.
Peters, a third-term congressman, and Udall, a first-term senator, both voted for the 2010 health care bill. They echoed Obama’s often repeated but now discredited statement that people who had health insurance before the law took effect could keep it if they were satisfied.
By mid-November, 4.2 million Americans had received insurance cancellation notices, according to an Associated Press review, including at least 225,000 in Michigan.
Not even 7,000 Michigan residents had enrolled through the federal insurance exchange as of Nov. 30, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That number is expected to increase, but the early glitches kept sign-ups well below expectations.