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updated: 7/1/2012 7:42 AM

Healthcare ruling affects suburban candidates' spin

Experts: Decision a win for Obama but gives GOP ammunition too

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  • Tammy Duckworth, left, opposes Joe Walsh in the 8th Congressional District for the 2012 General Election.

    Tammy Duckworth, left, opposes Joe Walsh in the 8th Congressional District for the 2012 General Election.

  • foster_bill_mg1107 Bill Foster, democratic candidate for congress

    foster_bill_mg1107 Bill Foster, democratic candidate for congress

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Days before the U.S. Supreme Court was to issue a decision on the Affordable Care Act, suburban congressional representatives and their opponents were busy drafting potential responses -- with their own brand of political spin -- to whatever decision the nine justices would render.

"This is a very complicated issue, and it's an issue that media and politicians don't react to well because we do want to be the first to jump in with our thoughts and opinions," said Congressman Joe Walsh, a McHenry Republican locked in a nationally watched race with Hoffman Estates Democrat Tammy Duckworth.

Analysts call the decision to uphold the law a major victory for the Obama administration but one that also provides electoral ammunition for Republicans, who are using the court's reasoning to try to galvanize loyal supporters and sway independent voters by portraying the legislation as a tax increase on the middle class.

While the court's decision plays big in the presidential race, it also trickles down to the suburban level where several local races are high on Democrats' list to reclaim the House.

As many Democrats loudly celebrated one of Obama's major victories, some suburban Democrats decided to tread more lightly.

Duckworth praised the law for its aid to people who have pre-existing conditions and for parents of young adults, but identified what she saw as remaining issues including the potential cost to small and mid-sized businesses with many employees.

"That's where the district is," Duckworth said. "In the district, people want to know what you're going to do to identify some of the problems."

The 8th Congressional District where she and Walsh are competing contains a portion of the former 6th Congressional District that voted Duckworth's way in 2006, but it also contains large numbers of independent voters in Elk Grove, Wheeling and Hanover townships.

"This is an ideological election coming up," said Bruce Newman, a political marketing professor at DePaul University. "I think that becomes the political marketing initiative. Who can put who on the defensive? Is the health care law better for the 30 million who don't have coverage or worse for those who are going to pay more than they have to now?"

Newman called the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision a "double-edged sword for Democrats. On the one hand, it becomes a way for the Democrats to reinforce their base. The downside is that they risk losing those right-leaning independents."

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who has perhaps the safest suburban Democratic seat with a majority of her 9th District territory in traditional Democratic strongholds including Evanston, Skokie and Lincolnwood, was the first to issue a statement Thursday. She celebrated what she refers to as "Obamacare" and called Thursday a "historic day" concerning the "most significant law in half a century."

Other suburban Democrats were more subdued.

Bill Foster, who is running in the 11th Congressional District against moderate Republican Congresswoman Judy Biggert, noted that now "Congress should come together on a bipartisan basis to do more to reduce the cost of health care for small businesses and middle-class families."

The district includes large parts of Aurora, Naperville and Lisle townships, as well as parts of Will County.

That statement was similar to that of Deerfield Democrat Brad Schneider, who is making a bid against Congressman Robert Dold of Kenilworth in the 10th Congressional District, which picked up large Democratic portions of Wheeling and Northfield townships in Cook County in the redistricting process.

"I know we still need to improve the law, working to lower costs for small businesses and their employees. But we can't afford to go backward as some Tea Party Republicans in Washington are threatening, to repeal the health care law and give insurance companies free rein to abuse consumers," Schneider said.

Republicans portrayed the ruling upholding the legislation as an expensive intrusion by Washington into middle class pocketbooks. Yet, like the Democrats, some in swing districts hedged their bets by praising certain popular segments of the Act.

Biggert, for instance, while disappointed in the ruling, called for Republicans and Democrats to "work across the aisle" to bring down the cost of health care and added "we can and should maintain coverage for pre-existing conditions and young adults under 26."

In a memo late last week, House Speaker John Boehner advised elected Republicans on talking points about the Supreme Court decision and their vow to overturn the act, including the fact that "Republicans will not repeat the Democrats' mistakes. We won't rush to pass a massive bill the American people don't support."

Many in the suburbs followed that line. GOP Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam of Wheaton, promised to take decision making away from "Washington bureaucrats" and "return health care decisions to patients and doctors."

"I have voted in the past to repeal the Affordable Care Act," Dold said. "I've said all along regardless of what the Supreme Court rules, I think Congress has to act in this regard."

Newman predicts Republicans will continue to focus on the health care target to "say this is the problem with the other side of the fence. They just don't get it. They're spenders, they are insensitive to different segments in society."

Walsh, who for months has sought to paint Duckworth as closely tied to the Obama administration, was right in step with that strategy.

"The beautiful part of this decision is that Tammy Duckworth and Obama are going to have to defend Obamacare," he said.

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