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May 29, 2015

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How a loss on health care might affect President Obama’s reelection chances

One of the problems for President Barack Obama’s re-election effort is his presidency has so far resulted in few accomplishments that really excite his base.

He took office amid sky-high expectation from Democrats who believed he, and the Democrats controlling both houses of Congress, would be able to move an agenda that had been on hold for the eight years of the Bush presidency.

The reality of governing, coupled with a near economic collapse, quickly deflated those expectations.

But through it all, Obama managed to pass a sweeping health care law. The law fell short of liberals’ hopes — no single-payer system, no truly universal coverage — but there was still a law that could be built upon.

The legislation has become a rallying cry for the Democratic base and the Obama campaign has worked hard to promote its most popular elements — coverage of pre-existing conditions, prescription drug assistance for senior citizens, longer coverage for younger adults on their parents’ insurance plans.

What happens, however, if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the law?

“I think my head would explode,” progressive activist Neera Tanden told the Atlantic earlier this week.

Former presidential candidate Howard Dean, who campaigned hard for health care reform 12 years ago, echoed Tanden’s sentiment.

“If the whole thing goes down, I think it’s pretty tough for the president,” he told the Atlantic.

But, in what might be a cynical read of that hypothetical, a conservative court overturning the health care law could fan the flames of what so far has been only a smoldering enthusiasm among the liberal base.

“For Obama, this was his signature law,” said Erin Neff, a progressive activist in Las Vegas. “He’s tied his re-election to the Affordable Care Act in many ways. If you look at what happened since he took office, we got this and nothing else. The backlash would be against the conservative justices. The backlash would be against the corporations.”

The liberal base is already primed for a fight against conservative justices.

For years, Republicans have largely won the public opinion tug-of-war when it comes to the judicial branch, railing against so-called “activist judges.”

But the Supreme Court is now controlled by five conservative justices. They ushered through the Citizens United case that freed corporations to spend unlimited money to influence elections. That has riled the liberal base. Add to that a gutting of the health care law?

“If they were to strike the whole thing down, that could have a very compelling organizational impact on our base,” Neff said. “We would be raising money the second it happen. Our bank account would flood, our people would be pissed and would organize protests the likes of which we haven’t seen.”

Jan Gilbert, a lobbyist for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, had a similar take.

“If they’re all thrown out, I think you are going to have a bit of a revolt by people who have been getting more help with prescription drugs, the rural clinics, with the children,” Gilbert said. “I just don’t think they’re going to throw it out. It would really be destructive to our health care system.”

Gilbert added the liberal base would remain resilient.

“If the whole thing is thrown out, I guess we’ll have to start from scratch and do it again,” she said.

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