KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Health Care Votes May Have Influenced Primaries

News outlets report on how health reform may have influenced Tuesday's primary elections.

The Washington Post says that the Democratic primary election for Arkansas' Senate seat was influenced by labor unions who campaigned for Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, in part because of incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln's vote on health care. Working America "spoke to about 90,000 people in 27 towns and sent 1.75 million pieces of pro-Halter mail. A pairing of the Service Employees International Union and the Communications Workers of America reached an additional 85,400 prospective voters who agreed to discuss the Senate campaign, said Jon Youngdahl, SEIU national political director. SEIU, which has only 1,000 members in the state, spent more than $1.5 million, including a $1 million television buy, Youngdahl said. The national AFL-CIO spent $3 million or more on Halter's behalf, spokesman Eddie Vale said. The effort was fruitful: Lincoln and Halter are heading to a June 8 runoff" (Slevin, 5/19).

In a separate article, The Washington Post details the other primary elections, where anti-Washington sentiment often ran strong. Among those races was the Democratic primary for senator in Pennsylvania, where incumbent Arlen Specter was defeated by Rep. Joe Sestak, even though he had helped the Democrats get a health reform deal. "The senator provided the party with a critical vote needed to break GOP filibusters against health-care legislation. In return, Obama strongly endorsed him in the primary, as did Pennsylvania's Democratic establishment, led by Gov. Edward G. Rendell and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter" (Balz and Cillizza, 5/19).

But in a different Pennsylvania race, both candidates played up their opposition to health care. "In a closely watched Pennsylvania congressional race to replace the late Democratic Rep. John Murtha, the Democratic candidate, Mark Critz, successfully wooed conservative voters in his party by opposing Mr. Obama's health-care law, and by opposing abortion rights and gun control," The Wall Street Journal reports. "Mr. Critz defeated a Republican Johnstown-area district that had voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain in 2008" (Wallsten and Bendavid, 5/19).

"Republicans were quick to point out that Critz's win was no victory for Democratic policies, because he ran on a conservative platform that highlighted his opposition to abortion and the health care reform bill," Politico reports. "'This hard-fought race gave us an early preview of what Democrats will attempt to do in the fall in order to survive,' National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions said in a statement. 'They will steer clear of publicly campaigning with President [Barack] Obama and Speaker Pelosi, distance themselves from the Democratic agenda, and attempt to co-opt Republican positions on the issues'" (Isenstadt, 5/18).

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