GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Thanks to the fiasco that followed the launch of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), Democrats are bracing for hard-fought Senate races in states they had hoped to win with ease just two months ago.
Weeks of technical problems with the health insurance enrollment website and anxiety over insurance cancellations for millions of people have erased early advantages enjoyed by Democratic candidates Gary Peters in Michigan and Mark Udall in Colorado.
As the election year dawns, those problems have widened the narrow opening for Republicans to retake control of the Senate.
“There’s not a lot of wiggle room here. Colorado is definitely in play,” said Craig Hughes, a Denver-based Democratic consultant who ran Obama’s 2012 Colorado campaign and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet’s 2010 campaign. “The website was a disaster, and the process of changing insurance is inherently difficult. This is not going to be a smooth process.”
Republicans need to pick up six seats to win the Senate in a midterm election year that typically hurts the party in the White House.
A victory in either Michigan or Colorado — both carried by Obama in 2012 and 2008 — would greatly boost their chances. Democrats already are defending Senate seats in seven states that Obama won, including three where incumbents are retiring.
Peters, a third-term congressman, and Udall, a first-term senator, both voted for PPACA. They echoed Obama’s often repeated but now discredited statement that people who had health insurance before the law took effect could keep it if they were satisfied.
By mid-November, 4.2 million Americans had received insurance cancellation notices, according to an Associated Press review, including at least 225,000 in Michigan.
Not even 7,000 Michigan residents had enrolled through the federal insurance exchange as of Nov. 30, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That number is expected to increase, but the early glitches kept sign-ups well below expectations.
At the same time, unemployment in Michigan hovers above the national average, and its biggest city, Detroit, is in bankruptcy. Democrats are fighting to reverse the historic drop-off in Democratic voter turnout in midterm elections, a problem that’s compounded by the fact that Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who’s also on next year’s ballot, is polling well ahead of his little-known Democrat challenger, former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer.
In Colorado, at least 106,000 people had received cancellation notices as of mid-November, while fewer than 10,000 had enrolled in the state-run health insurance exchange. Colorado’s economy has performed better than Michigan’s, but Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who’s also seeking re-election in 2014, has come under fire from the right for his efforts to enact new gun restrictions and to allow gay marriage.
To be sure, Republicans have not seized control of the contests in either state. Some national GOP strategists grumble about the quality of their party’s candidates, including Ken Buck in Colorado, who lost his 2010 Senate race to Bennet and is one of three candidates seeking the nomination.
Obama announced Friday that insurance sign-ups have soared across the country in December, following upgrades to the website. The administration also has taken steps to help the 500,000 consumers with canceled policies who have yet to secure new coverage.