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POLITICS: PennAve

Obamacare mess weakens White House pitch to Hispanics

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Obamacare could become a liability for Democrats among Latino voters, a key demographic that has been a focus of their health reform messaging.

Hispanics have been far more sympathetic to President Obama’s signature domestic achievement than the rest of the general population, with Latinos accounting for roughly 30 percent of the uninsured pool.

The botched rollout of Obamacare’s new insurance exchanges, though, hardly resembles what the president promised Latino voters when he sold his health reform plan.

For all the problems with healthcare.gov, the Spanish-speaking version of the federal website registering consumers hasn’t even gone live yet. And amid the website’s woes, many are receiving cancellation notices for insurance plans that don’t meet the health law’s standards.

Strategists say that early messaging gave Obama a major advantage with Hispanics — and one he used to paint 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney as unconcerned with the anxieties of Latinos. Alongside his push for immigration reform, it helped Obama block GOP efforts to pry Hispanic voters away from the Democratic Party.

Hispanics remain supportive of Obamacare, but their enthusiasm has waned, initial polls in the wake of the rollout find.

A Latino Decisions poll of Hispanics in Colorado, taken between Oct. 14 and Oct. 18, still shows strong overall support for the Affordable Care Act. Fewer Latino voters, though, believe the law will help lower their health costs.

“I think it’s a lot of people who are frustrated that they don’t have the access to obtain health insurance,” Matt Barreto, a Latino Decisions pollster, said in an interview. “People are anxious and waiting for their turn to have access.”

Barreto said that Hispanics, at least in Colorado, had not turned completely on the law, but are frustrated by the government’s inability to implement the health blueprint.

“There were drop-offs,” he added discussing the poll, which will be released publicly on Monday. “The support wasn’t quite what it used to be.”

The White House must be careful that any downtick in support for Obamacare doesn’t turn into a deluge of frustration that erodes enthusiasm for Democrats among a core constituency.

White House officials on Thursday were quick to dismiss that possibility.

“Republicans have no alternative plan,” a senior administration official told the Washington Examiner. “For Latino voters to abandon Democrats, they’d have to have something to run to. Republicans don’t have any kind of specific appeal to win them over.”

A Gallup poll released this week, however, found that Obama’s approval ratings among Hispanics had dropped to 49 percent, well below the marks he received around November’s presidential election. It also represented a nine-point drop among Latino voters in just a week.

GOP leaders insist that the rocky rollout of Obamacare validates their rallying cries against the health law and that voters will side with the party trying to dismantle the increasingly unpopular framework.

The fight to win over Hispanics is critical for the White House.

For Obamacare to work, the high proportion of younger, healthier Hispanics who are uninsured must sign up for the public exchanges to keep premiums down for older, sicker Americans. That’s why the administration has focused so intently on promoting the health law in Hispanic media and arranging a series of interviews between the president and outlets with a wide Latino audience.

Some Republicans said the Obamacare problems could help conservatives win over Hispanics, but added that such an effort would need to be coupled with an effective message on immigration reform.

“Obamacare alone won’t do it,” said a senior aide for a Republican senator pushing for a comprehensive immigration law. “Nobody right now is happy with the health law. But the website won’t all of the sudden turn Hispanics into conservatives. We need an entire overhaul of our message.”

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Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner