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Health care vote-switchers an endangered species

By Aaron Blake

"I voted for it before I voted against it."

It's a quote that many cite as Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) downfall in the 2004 presidential election. (He was talking about funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

When it comes to this year's health care vote, however, it turns out it may be more harmful to have voted against it before you voted for it.

That's a lesson Democrats are learning in the eight districts where the party's incumbent congressman voted against the first version of the health care bill last November before voting in favor of the second -- and final -- version in March. (In almost every case, the member came under heavy pressure from the White House and Democratic leadership to cast a "yea" vote.)

Of those eight seats, Democrats are favored to hold just one after next Tuesday's election. Three or four of the other seven look to be lost causes, and the rest appear increasingly tough for Democrats.

Meanwhile, there were five Democrats who flipped from "yes" on the first bill to "no" on final passage. And, by comparison, they're looking pretty good.

Below, we dissect each of the vote-switchers:


* Retiring Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.): Gordon retired before switching his vote. It probably didn't matter, though, because Democrats were unable to recruit anyone of substance into the race. This race ranked No. 1 on The Fix's most recent Line of the 50 seats that are most likely to flip.

* Rep. Betsy Markey (D-Colo.): Markey was in a tough electoral spot from the get-go -- due to the conservative leaning of her district. She switched her vote, saying she had been satisfied by its deficit-reduction elements. Apparently, her district wasn't; a poll from GOP-leaning American Action Forum showed voters in Colorado's 4th district opposed the bill by a 17-point margin. In the end, her switch didn't even get her financial support from the national party, which appears to be conceding this one.

* Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.): Kosmas' situation is remarkably similar to Markey's, including the polling and the fact that national Democrats have pulled out completely.

* Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.): Boyd's switch to support the bill on final passage may have saved him in a close primary fight in August but Republicans say it effectively doomed him in the general election. Democrats aren't giving up here, spending their first $167,000 on this race last week, but that's nothing compared to the $1.1 million from GOP-aligned groups like the National Republican Congressional Committee and conservative retiree group 60 Plus . Much of that money was spent hammering Boyd on health care.

* Retiring Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.): Like Gordon, Baird announced his retirement before switching his vote. His successor as the Democratic nominee, former state Rep. Denny Heck (D), has been supportive of the health care bill, and national Republicans are launching a new ad hitting him on it.

* Rep. John Boccieri (D-Ohio) - Boccieri held a widely watched press conference to announce his switch from "no" to "yes" earlier this year. The added attention has translated into a bevy of outside spending -- $4.5 million in spending from outside groups. Fortunately for Boccieri, organized labor has made him a cause celebre and have actually outspent Republican-leaning groups like 60 Plus and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As far as battlegrounds over the health care bill, this toss-up may be the biggest.

* Rep. Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.): Murphy is one of notably few Democratic incumbents to go on offense on health care, launching an ad recently that hits his opponent for supporting repeal. But that came after it became clear that Murphy was in more trouble than previously thought. Over the last few months, former Army Col. Chris Gibson (R) has moved this race from "likely Democratic" to "toss-up" in the Cook Political Report's rankings. And a Siena poll Tuesday showed Gibson turning a 17-point deficit into a nine-point lead.

* Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio): Kucinich is almost certainly safe because of the strong Democratic tilt of his district. But conservative columnist Bill Kristol last week played up a poll that showed Kucinich up by just four points on his GOP opponent.


* Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.): The NRCC was quick to launch an ad noting Arcuri's switch on health care, and ever since then, most of its ads have tried painting Arcuri as a flip-flopper. This race has been passed by some other ones nationally in large part thanks to a troubled situation for the GOP at the top of the ticket in New York. But it's still competitive.

* Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) : Republicans were unable to recruit a top-tier candidate into this race, but it's still turning out to be competitive. Even though Space might have made the right call the second time around on health care, his first vote in favor of the bill, coupled with his support of the cap and trade energy bill -- Space comes from a big coal-producing district -- could spell doom. Despite having gone the opposite way of Boccieri, Space finds himself in much the same position as his neighbor to the north -- mostly because his district is more conservative.

* Retiring Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.): While it's not clear that Baird's and Gordon's votes had much effect on their would-be Democratic successors, Berry probably saved his some trouble. That's because that candidate, Chad Causey, is Berry's former chief of staff, and a "yes" vote from Berry on final passage would have been easier to tag on Causey because of their close association. Instead, Causey seems to be running well, considering he comes from a district that went by 21 points for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential race. Call it a toss-up.

* Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.): There was some talk that Lynch's switch might have earned him a major primary challenge funded by unions. A candidate emerged but fizzled. Instead, while a pair of other Massachusetts Democrats in similar districts (Barney Frank and Niki Tsongas) are having headaches, Lynch should cruise.

* Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.): If Lipinski ever loses reelection in a 64 percent Obama district, it's likely to come in the primary. Thankfully for him, his primary was in February, before he switched his vote in March. We'll see if his switch matters in 2012.

By Aaron Blake  | October 26, 2010; 10:09 AM ET
Categories:  Health Care, House  
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