Spring Break Report

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So what are Democratic members of Congress facing out there, as they return to their districts in the wake of passing sweeping health care legislation? Are they encountering angry mobs shouting “repeal and replace”? Are they being showered with bouquets and greeted as liberators?

“What you’re finding is a big appetite for information. People really want to know what’s in [the new law],” Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the head of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters this morning. “The more they know about the details, and that the bill does, the more they like what they see.” Van Hollen, who is the chief strategist for House Democrats in this fall’s elections, discussed their prospects at a breakfast sponsored by the centrist organization think tank* Third Way.

As we noted before, Democrats armed themselves with talking points to sell this plan over the recess. Have they persuaded their constituents? Thus far, the polls suggest mixed results.

The important thing to remember, however, is that this is early. And I do think Van Hollen is right on one thing: Now that the health bill is a reality, people are–properly and wisely–less interested in the political arguments, and have turned their attention to figuring out how it affects their lives.

Where Van Hollen says the Democrats have gained ground with their their activist base–measured most tangibly, he says, by an uptick in small contributions online. “We’ve seen a huge increase in enthusiasm,” he said. “We’ve restored faith in the ability to get something big done.” Then again, the landmark legislation has also mobilized the other side. In Pennsylvania, for instance, GOP Senate candidate Pat Toomey reported raising $2.3 million in the first three months of 2010.

One thing does seem certain. There will be no torpor in this fall’s midterms. The new health care law has served as a reminder to everyone of the most basic truth in American democracy: Elections have consequences. The battle has been joined.

*More precise description of Third Way.