Mixed Results on the Health Reform Referendum

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There’s no doubt that voting for the Affordable Care Act made lots of Democratic incumbents vulnerable this year. Still, it’s difficult to attribute losses to a single issue. Exit polls indicate jobs and the economy were far more important to voters this year. But there are clear signs that pundits who predicted high-profile losses for the Democratic Party in districts and states where health care was a major campaign issue were right.

Despite a last-minute appearance in his district by Barack Obama, Tom Periello – a hero of liberals everywhere – went down swinging in VA-5. Periello was supposed to be a test case of whether proud liberalism could hold a red district in a tough year – he touted his vote for health reform and his district’s voters punished him for it. But even voting against Democratic health reform wasn’t a sure path to re-election. We had proof right in Periello’s home state where Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher, who voted against the original House health care bill and the final version, is on track to be defeated by Republican Morgan Giffith in VA-9.

In Colorado, Betsy Markey – who knew her vote for the final health reform bill was likely to send her home – was on track to lose even before her re-election campaign began. The night before the House passed the final version of the health care bill, Obama gave a speech to the Democratic caucus, espousing the virtues of liberalism and calling out Markey by name, saying he knew she was in a tough district but that he was proud she would vote for the bill. She did and she’s done, according to projections. Earl Pomeroy, representing North Dakota’s lone congressional district, also faced tough headwinds largely because of his vote for the ACA. (Unemployment in the state is much lower than the national average.) He will also lose, according to projections.

In Wisconsin, Sen. Russ Feingold decided – like Periello – to run on his vote for health reform. He ran ads touting his support for the law, but he too was swept up in the wave of anti-incumbency. Republican challenger Ron Johnson will win Feingold’s seat.

Voters in Georgia will, according to projections, elect Republican Ralph Hudgens, who opposes the ACA, as insurance commissioner. But in Kansas, Republican Sandy Praeger – who largely supports the ACA – is gliding to victory. (She won her primary and ran in the general unopposed.) UPDATE: In Oklahoma, incumbent Kim Holland lost her post to Republican challenger John Doak.

Voters in Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma also had a chance to weigh in on symbolic ballot initiatives to amend their state constitutions to exempts residents from portions of the Affordable Care Act. These are symbolic because federal law trumps state law – the point of the initiatives is basically to send a message of opposition. Oklahoma voters resoundingly approved their measure. (Missouri voters acted similarly in August.) It’s still early, but Colorado voters look like they are more split, with 55% of voter voting against the measure with 24% of precincts reporting. In Arizona, even fewer votes have been tallied – the count stands at 56% approving the measure with 14% of precincts reporting.

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