Repeal Obamacare? Not popular, not even in Louisiana

A special election in Louisiana provides more evidence about Americans’ views toward Obamacare.

To be sure, special elections reveal only so much. But the result, surprising to observers, demonstrates that the just-say-no stance is not a sure winner, even in a conservative, Republican-held district. In fact, pragmatism and an acceptance of compromise can bring electoral success.

This special House race, on Saturday, November 16, was needed to fill a seat held by a Republican who left to work for Gov. Jindal.

Two Republicans were running against each other, but it wasn’t a primary.

Louisiana has an unusual electoral system, with runoffs possible. Multiple candidates from different parties run and, if no one gets a majority, there’s a second round between the top two vote-getters.

The winner is a conservative businessman who supported elements of the Affordable Care Act. He won, 60-40%.

Winner Vince McAllister acknowledged that repeal is an impossibility and argued for expanding Medicaid.

His opponent was backed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) but also by FreedomWorks and the Tea Party of Louisiana.

According to the conservative Washington Times:

Mr. Riserand Mr. McAllister largely agreed on many issues. Both oppose abortion, favor strong gun rights, and criticize the levels of federal spending and debt.

Their sharpest distinction rested with President Obama’s signature health care law.

Both opposed the health overhaul, but Mr. Riser wanted only repeal, saying the law will harm businesses and families and can’t be fixed.

Mr. McAllister said repeal had no chance with Democrats leading the Senate and White House, so he said Congress should work to improve the law. He also wants Louisiana to expand its Medicaid program to give insurance to the working poor, an expansion that Mr. Riser opposed.

Joshua Stockley, a political scientist at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, stated that voters “signaled that McAllister’s pragmatism seems to be a more tenable governing solution.”

McAllister emerged from a large pack of candidates to contend in the runoff, and his stance on health care enabled him to win.

According to The Hill:

McAllister had trailed Riser in the first round of voting but won the runoff by tacking to the center, saying he supported parts of ObamaCare. The move seemed risky in the heavily conservative district, but the all-party election system in Louisiana means Democrats and independents voted in the election of the two Republicans.

As I’ve shown before in an analyzing national poll data, support for repealing the Affordable Care Act is not strong.

More support keeping it or expanding it rather than ending it altogether. In some places, Democratic incumbents have not been comfortable with supporting all of the law’s elements.

Right now, a year before the 2014 midterm elections, it’s not clear how the health reform law will play at the ballot box.

But it certainly appears that, as the Louisiana political scientist Joshua Stockely said, “Republicans will not become a majority party or a governing party with the simple message of defund Obamacare, defund Obamacare, defund Obamacare.”

Certainly for one Louisiana Republican, supporting elements of Obamacare and promoting pragmatism helped him win a seat in Congress.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.