Hell has officially frozen over in Pennsylvania.
The first political ad warmly embracing ObamaCare, by a candidate not named Obama, hit state airwaves last week. It likely will be the last pro-ObamaCare ad ever made.
Allyson Schwartz boldly went where no Democrat has gone before, trying to gain ground in a primary race that is slipping swiftly from her hands.
The suburban Philadelphia congresswoman, seeking the Democrat nomination for governor, not only extolled ObamaCare’s virtues in her ad; she called out her rivals on social media, in press releases and on MSNBC for not being equally pro-ObamaCare. "I’m proud of it. And I believe the other Democrats in this race should also speak up and talk about their pride in this law," she said.
If this is how she genuinely feels, then at least give her credit for standing up for her principles. But if she is using the issue as a wedge to escape her poor polling, then it only strengthens the notion that ObamaCare is poison for Democrats.
Schwartz, the early frontrunner in the gubernatorial race and the darling of Washington elites, fell behind as the primary field grew. The most recent Franklin & Marshall College polls show her trailing York County businessman Tom Wolf; he holds strong 33-percent support, while she is at 7 percent and hoping to persuade the 46 percent of Democrats who are undecided.
And she is doing it by bragging about her "pride" in ObamaCare.
"It is a pretty bold and risky move," Keystone College political science professor Jeff Brauer said. But that "almost desperate" attempt to distinguish herself from her rivals could backfire, he said, "especially if the Affordable Care Act emerges as a major issue in the election, since its support is dubious with average Pennsylvania Democratic voters."
If, by some chance, Schwartz emerges as the Democrats’ nominee, her strong support of ObamaCare could become even more of a liability in the general election.
"What is particularly inaccurate is Schwartz’s accusations that her Democratic opponents are soft on their support of ObamaCare," Brauer said. "In fact, her major rival" — Wolf — "has taken a stronger position on ObamaCare, and Schwartz, as a congresswoman, actually opposed many of the cost-saving measures of the ACA due to pressure from interest groups."
It is classic campaign strategy: Try to hit your opponents on a position on which you have your own weaknesses.
Since Schwartz is not the frontrunner, her opponents have the luxury of ignoring her strategy and not drawing more attention to an unpopular issue.
"However, if this move does significantly bolster her position in the polls, the Democratic field will be forced to deal with her accusations more directly," Brauer said.
The impact would be far-reaching: It would force other Democrats to deal with a whole different ObamaCare argument created by politicking; they would have to defend it more stridently or abandon it and their party — something that could keep Democrat voters at home.
If Schwartz wins on ObamaCare — something no one else is willing to run on — it would "absolutely" hurt her in the general election, said Muhlenberg College political science professor Chris Borick, "but I think that she would love to get to the stage where she has to worry about it."
Americans still hold generally negative views of the law, and those sentiments have hardened as its provisions have taken effect. The most recent Gallup survey shows 45 percent of Americans expect the law to worsen U.S. health care in the long run; only 37 percent believe it will improve care.
Brauer said Schwartz is making national headlines because the Obama administration and the news media have been pining to have a Democrat run on strong support for the ACA. "This is a test run for other Democrats and political analysts alike for the upcoming midterm elections."
But he believes her gambit is "too little, too late. Most party activists have already committed to a candidate’s campaign by this point."
ObamaCare always was going to be front-and-center in this year’s midterms — but not in the way Schwartz has used it. It will be interesting to see how her move impacts her fellow Democrats.
Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at [email protected]