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« Stupak Challenger Makes Friends | Blog Home Page | New Polls Show Public Split On Health Reform »

Reform Battle Goes Beyond Congressional Races

Sunday night's climactic House vote on health care reform will likely go down as the defining vote for many representatives, particularly the Democrats who went out on a political limb to help their party pass the historic legislation. But the repercussions go beyond the Congressional midterm elections this November. Here's a look at some of the other races in which health care may be a dominant focus.

* Florida Governor: Bill McCollum, a former Congressman representing the Sunshine State, has emerged as the leading voice among Republican attorneys general in pledging to fight the implementation of the Democratic-sponsored health care reforms. McCollum says this is about principle, not politics. But this fight comes as the gubernatorial race in Florida is really gearing up, and as the likely GOP nominee, McCollum's fight could sharpen the national spotlight.

"If the president signs this bill into law, we will file a lawsuit to protect the rights and interests of American citizens," McCollum said in a statement after the House approved the Senate bill Sunday. The likely Democratic nominee, Alex Sink, offered this statement -- hardly an enthusiastic one: "Though it is certainly not perfect, these long-overdue reforms are better than Washington continuing to do nothing to improve America's health care system."

McCollum isn't the only attorney general in this fight eying a promotion this fall. Henry McMaster of South Carolina is engaged in a multi-candidate primary in South Carolina. Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett is the early frontrunner in his state's open-seat gubernatorial race. Former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, running for the GOP nomination for Senate in New Hampshire, came out in favor of a repeal effort Monday.

* Republican Presidential Nomination: Two years from today, we may already know who the Republicans are nominating to challenge President Obama for re-election. That campaign is underway already, and potential candidates were among the first to condemn the House action Sunday night.

The most interesting reaction may have come from former Gov. Mitt Romney, who is working very hard to side with the overwhelming majority of his party in slamming the Democratic plan while defending the legacy of his effort in Massachusetts. "His health-care bill is unhealthy for America," Romney charged. "It will create a new entitlement even as the ones we already have are bankrupt. For these reasons and more, the act should be repealed. That campaign begins today."

Democrats had a field day with Romney's reaction, with DNC press secretary Hari Sevugan saying that "it must be difficult to endure all the comparisons of the similarities between your signature health care plan and the bill passed last night when you are trying to appear to be the angriest of the angry far right wing in the Republican Party." From the White House podium Monday, press secretary Robert Gibbs said the Obama plan "looks an awful lot like what happened in Massachusetts, and I'm sure Governor Romney hates every time I say that."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota has already signaled a willingness to tangle with Romney over his own health reform effort. We may see that fight continue to play out this Thursday as Pawlenty visits New Hampshire for the second time. Sarah Palin, an outspoken supporter of the Tea Party efforts against health care, joins John McCain this week as well.

* Ohio Governor: Ted Strickland lost his seat in Congress in 1994 as Democrats were swept from power in the Republican Revolution, an outcome that was spurred in part by the Clinton administration's failed reform effort. His opponent this November is his former House colleague, John Kasich. That race thus far has focused largely on the Buckeye State's economic woes, but Strickland has acknowledged the impact of all things Washington in his own re-election bid.

"I don't think the American people reward failure or perceived failure," Strickland said in February when asked by RCP about health care's role. "I do believe what happens in Washington has a direct effect within our individual states. ... So that's why I want action, and I especially want action on health care."

Strickland joined President Obama at a rally in northeast Ohio just last week as he was selling his reform plan.

* Senate Primaries: The issue of health care will of course be debated in the Senate general elections this fall. But it is also adding fuel to some of the partisan splits at play in several primary races. The two clearest examples are in Arkansas and Florida.

In Arkansas, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D) sought to pressure Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) to again support the reform effort when the Senate takes up reconciliation this week. With Lincoln signaling she may not, Halter issued this statement: "It seems Senator Lincoln is putting the insurance companies, big banks, and other special interests who have given her campaign more than a million dollars in contributions ahead of her constituents in Arkansas."

In Florida, Marco Rubio is hoping to get two bites of the apple in his fight with Gov. Charlie Crist. Monday he seized on Speaker Nancy Pelosi's final speech on the House floor before the vote in which she discussed the stimulus effort. Rubio alleged that Crist's support for that program "wasn't just an isolated $787 billion mistake, it also opened the floodgates for President Obama and Congressional Democrats to spend recklessly and ram through ObamaCare against the will of the American people." Rubio has joined efforts toward a repeal, and urged Crist to do the same.

* State Legislative Races: Just as some Republican attorneys general are challenging health care legislation in court, some state legislatures are hoping to throw up road blocks as well. Virginia lawmakers approved a bill to allow state residents to opt out of the federal mandate that kicks in after several years. The Republican-led state legislatures in Utah and Idaho have also since targeted reform provisions legislatively. Last summer, the Arizona legislature approved a ballot initiative this fall in which voters may amend the Constitution to say no individual or employer can be penalized for not purchasing or providing insurance.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says 36 states are considering legislation to limit the federal law. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee warns: "The President's reform plan hasn't even passed yet, but right-wing state lawmakers are already trying to strip out key elements of the plan at the state level. ... But the stakes are just as high at the state level as they are in Congress. If Democrats fail to protect health care reform from state-level obstruction, millions of Americans who are counting on health care reform to improve -- or potentially save -- their lives will be left out in the cold."

Republicans currently have total control of 13 state legislatures, while Democrats control 28. In eight states, different parties control different chambers of the legislature. Nebraska's legislature is non-partisan.