Obamacare Can Be Complicated for Republicans Beyond the Beltway

by Nathan L. Gonzales February 25, 2014 · 10:03 AM EST

For Republicans in D.C., the Affordable Care Act is a black and white issue — you are either for it or against it. And they are all against it. But for many GOP legislators and candidates outside the Beltway, the politics of Obamacare is much more complicated.

In Oregon, state Rep. Jason Conger has been on the defensive for his votes to set up a state insurance exchange, Cover Oregon, as he seeks the GOP nomination in the U.S. Senate race.

According to The Oregonian, at least one of Conger’s opponents has attacked him for voting in favor of Cover Oregon, which had some well-publicized website difficulties. Of course, Conger didn’t let the charges go unanswered.

“Legislators don’t get to vote on federal law,” Conger responded in the article, saying that it wasn’t true his votes were the “equivalent of Obamacare.”

Conger isn’t the only candidate wrestling with the issue.

In Colorado, former state Rep. Amy Stephens is on the defensive for sponsoring the state health insurance exchange as she seeks the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate.

“In the scenario of the lesser of two evils, this was the best choice,” Stephens told The Denver Post last fall about supporting Connect for Health Colorado. “I felt — and still do feel — Colorado knows how to do health care better than the federal government.”

In recent interview with the Rothenberg Political Report, it was very clear state Sen. Owen Hill plans to make Stephens’ vote a key point of distinction in their primary, which also includes Weld County District Attorney/2010 nominee Ken Buck. The winner will face Democratic incumbent Mark Udall.

The ACA and state insurance exchange dynamic is not limited to Senate races.

In West Virginia, some Democrats believe that Republican Evan Jenkins’ past support for some health care provisions that are similar to those in ACA and the more recent state insurance exchange make him a flawed messenger to attack Democratic Rep. Nick J. Rahall II for supporting Obamacare.

Jenkins, who was a Democrat until this run for Congress, will likely use part of the explanation that Stephens will use — that giving the state more control is better than relying on the federal government. He is also in a different position than Conger and Stephens because he doesn’t face a competitive primary. And, in general, GOP strategists would likely welcome a general election debate over ACA in the 3rd District, where President Barack Obama is incredibly unpopular.