With enrollments higher than expected, and costs lower, some Democrats - but not necessarily those in South Carolina - say it's time to stop hiding from the president's Affordable Health Care Act, even in this year's toughest Senate elections.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has begun airing TV ads criticizing "Obamacare" to drum up support in his crowded June primary race, and Republicans across the country are practically daring Democrats to embrace Obamacare, the GOP's favorite target in most congressional campaigns.
But in Alaska, pro-Democratic activists are doing just that, and a number of strategists elsewhere hope it will spread.
President Barack Obama recently announced that first-year sign-ups for subsidized private health insurance topped 7 million, exceeding expectations. And the Congressional Budget Office - the government's fiscal scorekeeper - said it expects only a minimal increase in customers' costs for 2015. Over the next decade, the CBO said the new law will cost taxpayers $100 billion less than previously estimated.
South Carolina Democratic Chairman Jaime Harrison said every candidate ultimately bases their positions on what they believe.
He noted Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Vincent Sheheen has supported Medicaid expansion "because it's common sense to bring our own tax dollars home, and it would create 44,000 jobs and help working South Carolinians access care."
However, Harrison also noted Sheheen "has not been shy about criticizing the individual mandate and botched implementation which aren't in South Carolina's interests."
Sheheen is expected to face Gov. Nikki Haley, a staunch Obamacare opponent, in this fall's gubernatorial election - considered one of the most competitive of all South Carolina's high-profile races in this election cycle.
And Haley's campaign would have no problem with any effort by Sheheen to embrace Obamacare more.
"Obamacare is absolutely a defining difference," Haley campaign spokesman Rob Godfrey said. "But it's also symbolic of Vince Sheheen's overall approach to government that includes job killing regulations and tax increases, and pandering to his trial lawyer and labor union allies."
Across the country, Republicans already were pushing their luck by vowing to "repeal and replace" the health care law without having a viable replacement in mind, said Thomas Mills, a Democratic consultant and blogger in North Carolina. Now, he said, Democrats have even more reasons to rise from their defensive crouch on this topic.
"Democrats need to start making the case for Obamacare," Mills said. "They all voted for it, they all own it, so they can't get away from it. So they'd better start defending it."
It remains to be seen how many other Palmetto State Democratic candidates might warm to Obamacare.
"Other candidates will similarly forge their own course based on what they believe," Harrison said. "At the end of the day, good leaders run on what they actually believe and stand for what they think is in the best interests of South Carolina - not politics.... We're a big tent party and there are no litmus tests."
Even some professionals who have criticized the health care law say the political climate has changed.
"I think Democrats have the ability to steal the health care issue back from Republicans," health care industry consultant said Bob Laszewski said. "The Democratic Party can become the party of fixing Obamacare."
Lauren Sausser and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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