Dems Gearing Up for Tough Health Care Fight This Fall

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The Democratic National Committee has already pledged to spend $50 million on congressional elections this year. And now Ben Smith gets word that the White House will devote a senior aide to selling health care full time. Which senior aide will take up this responsibility isn’t yet known, but presumably they will do some of what was handled by Linda Douglass, the former ABC News reporter who handled communications for the White House Office of Health Reform. She recently announced she’s leaving her post.

That the DNC and White House are making these announcements conveys two things. One, that the party now realizes health reform is not going to sell itself. It’s not going to become instantly popular, even with the immediate benefits Democratic leaders have been touting. Second, the announcements are messages to vulnerable congressional Democrats that the party and White House are taking threats to their seats seriously and plan to devote lots of resources to help mitigate expected losses in the House and Senate come November.

Democrats are trying mightily to focus the news media and public’s attention on financial reform and it remains to be seen how central a role health care will play this fall. But as long as health care continues be divisive, my guess is it will continue to be a favorite topic for Republicans. This fall, will Democrats run from the issue and try hard to talk about other issues, like financial reform? Or will they chose instead to emphasize the benefits of health reform, hoping they can change some minds among voters? District and state polling will help determine the strategy for each race.

One other bit of health care personnel news I’ve yet to mention is about Jon Kingsdale. Earlier this week, he announced he’s leaving his post as head of the Massachusetts health insurance exchange. The timing of his departure is noteworthy. The Department of Health and Human Services will need lots more staff in the coming years to implement the health reform law and then keep things running. Kingsdale would be an obvious choice for a senior position. He’s someone lots of health care reporters, including this one, talked to as the national debate was boiling over for perspective on how exchanges work and other matters. Kingsdale hasn’t said yet what his next job will be, but has indicated he wants play a role in federal health reform. He could do that from within HHS or from the outside as a highly paid consultant or at think tank. Us health policy wonks will be watching closely to see where he lands. And so, I’m guessing, will Mitt Romney. If the defacto head of Massachusetts health reform ends up helping guide national reform, that will be one more thing standing in the way of Romney’s case that the two systems are “as different as night and day.”