In it, but not of it. TPM DC

WTF? Michigan Senate Candidates Switch Identities On Obamacare

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AP Photo

It's a variation of the rhetorical dance that's likely to appear in many of the battleground Senate races this year. Democratic incumbents defending some tough turf in Louisiana and North Carolina have rebuked the White House for HealthCare.gov's troubled launch and introduced bills aimed at fixing Obama's broken "if you like your health plan, you can keep it" promise -- acknowledging Obamacare's problems, in other words, without fully abandoning it.

Some of their opponents, on the other hand, have been backing down from the unequivocal "repeal" position that they'd previously embraced, trying to figure out how to run against the unpopular law without opening themselves up to the attack that they'd strip health coverage from those who have gotten it under the law.

But nowhere has this case of mistaken political identity -- Democrats tacking right on Obamacare, Republicans tacking left -- been as evident as in Michigan. With Americans for Prosperity, the conservative super PAC, spending a lot of money on anti-Obamacare ads, it's not an issue that either candidate will likely be able to avoid during the campaign.

Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found in December that Obamacare approval was underwater in the state -- 34 percent support; 48 oppose -- while Peters and Land were in a virtual tie.

Land has waffled quite a bit in her Obamacare stance in the past, but the last few weeks, it's accelerated. First, her campaign told the Washington Post's Greg Sargent that she "applauds (Republican Gov. Rick Snyder) for doing what he believes is best for Michigan families" when asked about the state's Medicaid expansion.

Then Monday, she voiced support for other elements of Obamacare, including the provision that prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and another concept that sounds a lot like the insurance exchanges created by the law, according to the Associated Press, while outlining her own alternative ideas for health care reform.

Asked about the apparent change in tone, Land spokeswoman Heather Swift told TPM in an emailed statement: "Terri has always believed that ObamaCare is not the answer for Michigan's hard-working families."

On the other side, Peters has strayed from the Democratic Party line. Last Wednesday, he was one of 27 Democrats to join with 223 Republicans in voting to delay the individual mandate penalty by a year. It was at least the second time that Peters has voted to delay the mandate, dating back to July 2013.

Asked about the vote, Peters's campaign directed TPM to comments he made last year. Peters didn't portray the votes as undermining his support for the law, but as evidence that Republicans are relenting in their opposition, opting to pass delays to specific provisions rather than full repeal.

“This is the first time Republicans have endorsed the health care law, and I encourage Congress to focus on fixing the implementation of the health care law and supporting our middle class instead of creating more gridlock," Peters said in a statement. He also said that a delay of the individual mandate was fair after the Obama administration's had delayed the employer mandate penalty, which is the same line adopted by House GOP leaders.

Both stances track with broader trends in how Democrats and Republicans are confronting the law in the 2014 cycle. Democrats want to position themselves as the 'fix' party -- Peters presents his votes that way -- in opposition to the GOP's unwavering obstruction. Republicans, on the other hand, are still figuring out whether to stick to full repeal or try a new message now that millions of people have gained coverage under Obamacare.

Those dynamics will likely lead to more of the role reversal on display in Michigan.

About The Author

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Dylan Scott is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. He previously reported for Governing magazine in Washington, D.C., and the Las Vegas Sun. His work has been recognized with a 2013 American Society of Business Publication Editors award for Best Feature Series and a 2010 Associated Press Society of Ohio award for Best Investigative Reporting. He can be reached at dylan@talkingpointsmemo.com.