This week's off-year elections reinforced the determination of many Republican leaders to keep hammering at President Obama's health care law.
That's because opposition to Obamacare seems to be a powerful issue for conservative voters across the country, underscored in the hotly contested gubernatorial race in Virginia, GOP strategists say. Democrat Terry McAuliffe won, but it was a narrow victory that left many GOP strategists fuming that if only Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli had run a better campaign or raised more money for TV ads attacking Obamacare, he would have scored an upset.
Exit polls in Virginia found that 53 percent of voters opposed the health care law, and those voters strongly supported Cuccinelli.
"Virginia validates Republican hopes that Obamacare will not only be the defining issue but also the most potent issue," Republican pollster Brock McCleary told Politico. "...Any Republican who isn't salivating at the possibility of using Obamacare against Democrats isn't using empirical data."
Democratic strategists disagree. They argue that McAuliffe's victory after he defended Obamacare shows that the issue can play well for Democrats.
Still, some Democrats are worried. A group of Democratic senators facing re-election in 2014 met with President Obama Wednesday to express their concerns that the health care law might drag them to defeat. Among their worries was that the launch of the Obamacare enrollment website has been a disaster, casting doubt on the overall Affordable Care Act.
Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a respected conservative strategist, told me that rising costs for health insurance are another big reason for the declining support for Obamacare, coupled with fears of losing insurance coverage because of the new law.
Republicans are increasingly on the march against the ACA. At a Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was grilled about the law. GOP senators accused President Obama of deception when he repeatedly said Americans could keep the health insurance coverage they liked if ACA passed. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called that a "false statement made to the American people."
For his part, Obama defended the law during a trip to Dallas Wednesday. He admitted to frustration with the website. "This is like having a really good product in a store, and the cash registers don't work and there aren't enough parking spots, and nobody can get through the door," Obama said. But he added that the website should be working properly by the end of November.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.