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Lassa Seeks Distance From Obama and Obey

Lassa Seeks Distance From Obama and Obey

By Scott Conroy and Erin McPike - October 5, 2010


STEVENS POINT, Wis. -- Democratic House candidate Julie Lassa actively distanced herself from President Obama and other party leaders on Monday in an interview with RealClearPolitics, and she cited the individual mandate provision in the new health care law as one of the chief concerns to address in the next Congress.

"I think in terms of President Obama, it's a mixed bag," Lassa said. "I think that they have done some good things, but we haven't been able to get out of this economic recession as quickly as we need to and as people would like."

A state senator, Lassa is running against Republican former District Attorney Sean Duffy in one of the most competitive and closely watched House races in the nation.

Wisconsin's 7th District has been in Democratic hands for generations, but Lassa was eager to stress her independence from the national party, even though she has been one of the top beneficiaries of funding from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

In the interview, Lassa took pains to disassociate herself from House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, who currently holds the 7th District seat and is retiring after more than four decades in office.

"I've been running my own campaign," Lassa said. "I'm my own individual candidate, and I really appreciate all the work that Congressman Obey has done for the district and for the state because he's served this district for 42 years, and I think that's important to recognize. But with his retirement is the turning of the page and the beginning of a new chapter."

Lassa emphasized that she has worked frequently with Republicans as a Wisconsin state senator and pointed out that she twice voted to override Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle‘s vetoes of bills that would have permitted gun owners to carry concealed firearms.

"To me it doesn't matter if it's a Republican or a Democratic idea," Lassa said. "It's just important that I believe that it's good public policy."

Lassa was particularly forthright about her reservations about health care reform - the signature achievement of Obama's presidency and the Democratic Congress.

"One of the things that I'm really concerned about is the mandate that individuals and families purchase health insurance, and I think that if we are going to mandate that individuals and families have to purchase insurance, we have to make sure that that insurance then is affordable," Lassa said. "Otherwise I don't believe that it's fair."

Lassa said that the health care reform law has a host of worthwhile provisions, including the bans on discriminating against patients with preexisting conditions and rescinding the coverage of policyholders who become sick, but she reiterated her concerns about the mandate.

Asked if she would support repealing aspects of the health care law if elected, Lassa said, "I think we have to look at one, how are they going to go through the rules process and implement that portion, and what is the federal government going to do to make sure that it remains affordable."

But if those steps weren't taken, Lassa said, "Then I think we have to really seriously consider whether or not that mandate stays because it is very important to me that individuals and families can afford health insurance." She added, "If we can't make sure that the premiums remain affordable, then I think we have to re-look at that section of the bill going forward."

Duffy spokeswoman Wendy Riemann said that Lassa has supported health care mandates in the Wisconsin legislature and called Lassa's espoused skepticism of federal health care reform "laughable."

"The fact is, Sen. Lassa supported a government-run health care scheme in Wisconsin that was even more restrictive than ObamaCare and did almost nothing to control health care costs," Riemann said. "Just like Sen. Lassa was hand-picked by her party to run for Congress, Sen. Lassa was one of the hand-picked few to welcome President Obama to Madison for his rally last week. Voters can be confident Sen. Lassa will be a rubberstamp for the president's big spending Washington agenda."

Lassa said that she was pleased to see Obama focusing on middle class voters but added that the president erred in expending his early political capital to health care reform.

"I think there were some missed opportunities, especially in making sure that we had more incentives, additional incentives for small businesses," she said.

The 7th District race remains fluid as the candidates prepare to square off in the second of eight scheduled debates on Wednesday.

Lassa plugged an internal poll released last week that showed her trailing Duffy by one percent, but internal numbers made public by the Duffy campaign on the same day showed the Republican with a 13-point lead.

In addition to emphasizing her political independence, Lassa and outside groups have sought to portray Duffy as a political opportunist and have drawn attention to his stint as a cast member on MTV's "The Real World" in 1997.

Lassa defended the attacks against Duffy's past personal life and said that his youthful indiscretions were fair game.

"I think some of that just goes to a bottom line of character and decision making," she said. "The decisions and how he acted on the show really reflect on him as a person."

Scott Conroy and Erin McPike are national political reporters for RealClearPolitics. Scott can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Erin can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com

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