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September 21, 2019

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The Policy Racket

Online ads target select Republicans on Medicare issue

Dean Heller

Dean Heller

Senate Democrats are launching their first targeted ad campaign to try to pin Republicans in eight states, including Nevada, for supporting changes to Medicare Wednesday — but the states they’re targeting suggests the campaign is as much about playing defense as going on the offensive.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee plans to “mobilize thousands of online activists,” through ads placed on Google, Facebook, and other websites, to “stand up for Medicare” by calling on their Republican senators to retract their support for changes to the Medicare program.

It’s a message the Democratic party believes is a winner for them, their proof being now-Rep. Kathy Hochul’s upset victory in New York’s 26th District last month, after a race that focused heavily on the issue.

Senate Dems warned after Hochul’s win they’d be taking their Medicare message to the stump in other contentious races, and that appears to be what they’re doing with these locally focused ads targeting Nevada and seven other states: Florida, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, and Virginia. All are more or less considered toss-ups in 2012.

But while they’ve got a clear Republican target in Nevada, that appears to be more the exception than the rule for the states in question. If targeting vulnerable, Medicare-supporting Republicans is the aim, then there are some states missing from this list, and of those that do appear, most don’t yet have a clear Republican in the running, just an incumbent Democrat in need of a political boost.

The debate over Medicare — and whether it ought to be converted to a government-subsidized, private-issue model — seemed like it was over last month after the Senate killed a House-sponsored budget proposal that would have made those changes for anyone 55 or under.

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller was the only member of Congress to vote for it twice (the first time when he was still in the House), consistency for which Democrats have been attempting to take him to task.

But Heller has staunchly defended his votes, arguing that if drastic changes to the program aren’t made, Medicare’s dead anyway. Thus his votes, he’s explained, have been an attempt to save the program from financial ruin and for future generations, both by changing the insurance structure and by restoring the half-trillion dollars moved from Medicare to other health care programs under President Barack Obama’s health care law, which Heller wants and has repeatedly voted to repeal.

But only a few weeks later, the topic of Medicare has resurfaced, again in the context of the fiscal 2012 budget negotiations. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated his insistence Tuesday that changes to Medicare be part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling and cut the budget — all but inviting Democrats once more to take to the stump.

“It’s time for Dean Heller to demand that Washington Republicans take their extreme plan to end Medicare off the table in the ongoing debt-ceiling negotiations,” said DSCC spokesman Matt Canter in a statement about the coming ad campaign.

“Dean Heller’s party bosses are playing chicken with Nevada’s economy solely to advance their extreme plan to end Medicare. Nevadans need leaders who will fight to protect Medicare,” he said.

While Heller is a favorite lightning rod for that kind of Democratic criticism in Nevada, he appears to be the only lawmaker on the DSCC’s state list to have that distinction.

The current Democratic senators from Missouri, Montana and Ohio rode into Congress on the 2006 wave that brought Democrats the majority in the Senate and House. They’ll face hard re-election battles to keep their seats. But it’s not yet clear who will be challenging them.

The same goes for Florida’s Bill Nelson, a Democrat who may face a tough fight. In Virginia and New Mexico, sitting senators are retiring and the field is still wide open.

There’s also a state or two that the ad campaign appears to be missing. Senate Democrats have been promising to hold Indiana Republican Sen. Dick Lugar responsible for his vote in support of the Medicare-altering budget and even sent out a few press releases to that effect last month. But Indiana is noticeably absent from the ad list.

In fact, only in Massachusetts is there another clear target in sitting Sen. Scott Brown, whose seat Democrats also consider to be a pick-up opportunity.

But there’s one problem: Brown voted against the Medicare changes when the budget containing them came up before the Senate, along with New England’s other two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine. Calling him out requires the presumption of guilt by association — which there’s fodder for, as Brown waffled before declaring his position — but it’s more of a stretch.

The DSCC wouldn’t confirm how much money they’re spending on the online ads, which are to appear as notices in the side wells of popular search and social networking websites.

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