By THOMAS BEAUMONT, Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both are using the Supreme Court decision upholding the federal health care insurance requirement, loved by liberals and hated by conservatives, to rally core supporters in the most competitive states in the presidential race.
Yet while each side may be benefiting from groundswells of volunteers and money, the ruling seems unlikely to sway the legions of undecided voters who are focused heavily on the economy — not on the health care debate that has raged in this country for years.
As a result, Republicans and Democrats alike say how the health care ruling influences a race that polls show is close will depend on how the campaigns use it to ramp up activity in the dozen or so states that Obama and Romney are contesting most aggressively.
"Whoever gets the organizational advantage ... that's the real impact of the decision," said Jesse Harris, who led Obama's 2008 early vote effort in Iowa. "In a state like this, that could be decisive."
A week after the decision, Democrat Obama's campaign is pointing to swollen ranks of campaign volunteers, in places like Iowa and Michigan, who have been emboldened to protect the health care overhaul now that it has been declared the law of the land. Opponents had argued that the requirement that all individuals to buy health insurance was a constitutional overreach.
"The law I passed is here to stay," Obama said to applause in Ohio this week.
Republican challenger Romney says the anger on the right has boosted fundraising in presidential battlegrounds, with millions in small-dollar contributions pouring in from conservatives who see the former Massachusetts governor as the last hope for getting the law repealed.
"What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States. And that is I will act to repeal Obamacare," Romney said last week in response to the ruling.
Americans across the country, and in the most hotly contested states like Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio and Virginia remain skeptical about Obama's signature policy accomplishment. Several polls taken in the last year in key states show narrow majorities opposing the law and supporting its repeal.
After reacting to the Supreme Court decision, both candidates quickly shifted their public rhetoric back to the economy — voters' No. 1 issue. Meanwhile, their campaigns began using the ruling to fire up supporters online and in key states in hopes of signing up more volunteers and encouraging donations.
In Michigan, callers at the phone bank in Obama's Detroit campaign office and volunteers registering voters at nearby bus stops touted the ruling. Said John Hardy, a Detroit office volunteer, "It's energized some people who support the president but were on the fence about helping."
Thousands of Iowans responded to a donation link included on a fundraising email from Obama's campaign and, in what Iowa campaign activists say is an unprecedented figure, at least 1,000 people also responded favorably to Obama's Iowa Facebook page after the ruling.
"People are pretty darned excited," said Nancy Bobo, a Des Moines Democrat and Obama campaign volunteer.
In Nevada, where Obama is in a tough fight with Romney over a state economy that's struggling to overcome double-digit unemployment, Democrat John Bruce Krausman said the ruling gives him a bit more confidence that Obama can win.
"It means for the country that we can move forward," Krausman said.
The ruling has served as a rallying point for Republicans, too.
Iowa Republican John Stineman characterized it as "a gift to Republicans" and added: "You could tie a bow around it."
After the decision, Romney's campaign reported signing up 1,500 new volunteers in swing-state Virginia last Saturday despite deadly thunderstorms that knocked out power to more than a million residents the night before. Republicans, who have the edge over Obama in fundraising, also pointed to the money that has rolled in since the court's June 28 decision.
Twenty-three hours after the ruling, Romney's campaign said it had raised $4.6 million. About 30 percent of the money came from targeted states, most of which are not fundraising hot spots. The total and which states the money came from could not be independently verified.
Romney reported raising $100,000 in North Carolina between Thursday and Friday, and signing up about 1,000 new donors. Romney aides say the influx was about the same in Ohio.
"It's a very unpopular bill down here," said Robert Reid, Romney's North Carolina campaign spokesman.
Associated Press writer Allen Reed in North Carolina, Brian Bakst in Minnesota, Scott Bauer in Wisconsin, Jeri Clausing in New Mexico, Brendan Farrington in Florida, Kathy Barks Hoffman in Michigan, Bob Lewis in Virginia, Cristina Silva in Nevada, Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Ohio and Kristen Wyatt in Colorado contributed to this report.
Follow Tom Beaumont at http://twitter.com/TomBeaumont