They saved Obama's bill; can he save their seats?
Congressional Democrats helped deliver President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Now, dozens of them are politically imperiled with a November election approaching in a contentious environment where emotions are raw and likely to remain so.
Obama plans to use his political heft — and the momentum of victory — to try to prop up lawmakers who stuck with him during the final days that turned the controversial legislation into the law of the land.
They'll surely need his help.
Despite euphoria in some quarters after Tuesday's bill signing, opponents kept up their vehement objections to Obama's plan and those who supported it.
A Virginia blog published what it said was the home address for Rep. Tom Perriello, a first-term Democrat who won election by just 745 votes in 2008 as Obama carried his state. The neighboring Virginia 6th District Tea Party Watchdogs blog urged readers to pay Perriello a visit.
Tea party activists are a loose-knit coalition of community groups largely made up of people with conservative and libertarian views who say government has grown too large, threatening individual liberties.
In Arizona, authorities said vandals broke a glass door Monday morning at the Tucson office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a top election target of the conservatives and Republicans.
"Giffords is toast," said Tucson tea party leader Trent Humphries. "She's going to have a lot of problems, especially since she has some really good candidates running against her."
In Ohio, Republican challenger Jim Renacci raised $50,000 in mere days while Democratic Rep. John Boccieri mulled over how he would vote on the health bill. He wound up voting for the overhaul; Renacci raised an additional $10,000 immediately.
"John Boccieri and his Democratic colleagues have pursued a failed agenda in Washington while ignoring the will of their constituents at home, and now the American people are fighting back — with their voices, their votes and their wallets," said James Slepian, campaign manager for Renacci.
These cases — and scores like them — underscore why White House aides have drawn up an intensive calendar to help vulnerable allies defend a vote that was, in many cases, against their own political interests. Obama promised wavering Democrats, primarily moderates in conservative-leaning districts and states, that they wouldn't be left standing alone if they cast the tough "yes" votes.
To help sway the public, Obama planned a trip to Iowa on Thursday for his first beyond-Washington event to promote the legislation after its passage. He planned a midday speech in Iowa City, a college town in a district served by Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, who was a "yes" vote for the bill.
In all, 17 Democrats who sided with Obama are seeking re-election in districts that Republican presidential candidate John McCain won in 2008. They include top Republican targets Perriello in Virginia, Betsy Markey in Colorado, Harry Mitchell in Arizona and Suzanne Kosmas in Florida. One other moderate Democrat now running for the Senate — Brad Ellsworth in Indiana — voted for the measure, too. He's facing a difficult race in a right-tilting state as Democrats seek to hang onto the seat now held by retiring Sen. Evan Bayh.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain's 2008 vice presidential running mate, asked her supporters to help target those races.
"We're going to hold them accountable for this disastrous Obamacare vote," Palin wrote on her Facebook page.
Losing the health care vote didn't seem to take any of the steam out of conservative activists.
"Now they're even more fired up," said Rose Pugliese, 31, an attorney in Palisade, Colorado, a tea party member who wants to see the defeat of Democratic Rep. John Salazar, who backed the overhaul and represents a district that voted for McCain.
"They're now on one mission — to get Salazar," she said.
Not just Salazar. The tea party movement plans to rally in the district of Rep. Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who led anti-abortion opposition to the bill but eventually supported it. Although Stupak won re-election in 2008 with 65 percent of the vote, his critics plan three rallies against him on April 8 and 9.
Even lawmakers who didn't vote for the overhaul are having to answer for their party's signature issue — and could well feel its electoral burden.
South Dakota Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin was adamantly opposed to the health care measure, citing its costs and Democrats' methods in bringing the legislation to the floor of the House.
Nonetheless, Herseth-Sandlin can expect to own the vote if her opponents have any say. One potential foe, Republican congressional candidate Kriti Noem, released a statement within an hour of Sunday night's vote criticizing Democrats and seeking to link Herseth-Sandlin, whose South Dakota at-large seat makes her a perennial Republican target, to the health care vote.
Hours later, Herseth-Sandlin's office took the unusual step of issuing a fact sheet and additional background on the congresswoman's "no" vote in an effort to remind voters that she was opposed.
Feelings are strong on the other side, too.
In Ohio, a union representing about 25,000 hospital, nursing home, state and other workers said it would no longer work in support Rep. Zack Space, the only House Democrat from the state to vote "no" on the bill. The Service Employees International Union on Monday portrayed the vote as a betrayal by Space, who represents a conservative district in southeast Ohio.
And in New York, the labor-backed Working Families Party said it was talking to several candidates who might mount a "progressive" challenge to Rep. Michael Arcuri, one of the 34 Democrats who voted against the bill.
The WFP said a challenge was also a possibility for Democratic freshman Rep. Michael McMahon, who also cast his vote against the proposal.
Associated Press Writers Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix, Kristen Wyatt in Denver, Thomas J. Sheeran and Meghan Barr in Cleveland, Doug Whiteman in Columbus, Ohio, Sara Kugler in New York, and Henry C. Jackson in Washington contributed to this report.