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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ryan Medicare Plan Is Already Shaking Up House Races


TAMPA, Fla. - Paul D. Ryan will take the stage at the Republican National Convention here on Wednesday to accept his party's nomination for vice president, but around the country, his plan for a sweeping remake of Medicare is shaking up Congressional campaigns, in some cases allowing Democrats to make inroads in races in which they were once seen as dead in the water.

Republican and Democratic pollsters and strategists say a curious split is developing around the Ryan plan. The top of the Republican ticket - Mitt Romney and Mr. Ryan - is holding its own with the issue in a presidential contest that has shown little movement in polls for months. But down the ticket, Medicare attacks are taking a serious toll on Republicans.

“It's a down-ballot disaster, across the board,” boasted Representative Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “We left for recess in a fairly neutral environment, where nearly a month later we have a good stiff wind at our backs. That wind is mostly propelled by Paul Ryan and his budget.”

Officials at the National Republican Congressional Committee said the attacks were not working. Guy Harrison, the committee's executive director, predicted that within two weeks, frustrated Democrats will move on to other issues.

But other Republicans - privately and publicly - say Democrats are not about to let up. Tom Cotton, a rising Republican star running for the Arkansas seat of Representative Mike Ross, a Democrat who is retiring, said that the attacks were not working on him in a district that is trending strongly Republican, but that other candidates were struggling.

Still, he said, most candidates are ready to fight for Mr. Ryan's plan.

“They recognize, as the House members already there recognize, we have to have this debate, and we have to win this debate,” he said, recalling ambush training he had in the Army when soldiers were drilled to face an attack head-on. “This is the most predictable ambush in politics. You don't duck and cover. You turn and face it.”

In Mr. Ryan's Wednesday night speech, Republicans are not expecting him to delve into the details of his “Path to Prosperity,” the budget plan he wrote and the House passed earlier this year. Under the Ryan proposal, those who are now under 55 would no longer receive a government-guaranteed, fee-for-service health plan when they reach 65. Instead, at 67, they would receive a fixed amount each year that they would use to purchase private health insurance or buy into the existing Medicare program. That check would increase each year slightly faster than the growth of the economy, regardless of the rate of health care cost inflation.

Democrats are pointing to a raft of polling - most of it from Democratic pollsters - showing their candidates building sig nificant leads in districts Republicans think they should win. A late July poll showed Representative Jim Matheson of Utah 18 percentage points ahead of the Republican candidate, Mia Love, who is getting star treatment in Tampa. In a poll by the Democratic firm Lake Research Partners, Ricky Gill, another Republican candidate granted a speaking slot at the convention on Tuesday, was 16 points behind Representative Jerry McNerney, a California Democrat in a redrawn Republican-leaning district.

Representative Mike McIntyre, Democrat of North Carolina, was all but left for dead after his district was redrawn to skew heavily Republican. But in late July, he was up on the Republican candidate, David Rouzer, 53 percent to 34 percent.

Since then, Democrats have poured on the Medicare attack, especially since Mr. Ryan was named to the ticket. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's first independent expenditures advertisement was an attack on the freshman repr esentative Dan Benishek of Michigan, saying he had voted to “essentially end Medicare and raise costs on seniors by over $6,000 a year.”

The same line of attack ison the air in North Carolina against Mr. Rouzer, coupled with the charge that his Ryan budget vote would also cut taxes for millionaires, “definitely not North Carolina values.”

President Obama's campaign came to Tampa on Wednesday to keep the heat on, introducing Carole Nenninger, a 71-year-old from just outside Tampa, to tell her story of her husband, Bill, whose battle with cancer has cost endless heartaches and more than $1 million - all paid by Medicare.

“If there's a voucher, I'm a little skeptical about turning over medical insurance to a private insurance company,” said the Obama campaign volunteer.

Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the National Republican Congressional Committee's recruitment chairman, expressed no concern about the attacks and confidence that R epublicans will actually pick up seats in November. Mr. Harrison added that the Medicare attacks were no more potent with Mr. Ryan on the ticket than they were when the first wave of them hit in a 2010 special election in upstate New York, when the Democratic candidate, Kathy Hochul, won a Republican seat.

“There is not going to be an additional House ad because of Paul Ryan,” said Mr. Harrison, the N.R.C.C.'s executive director. “There were going to run on him anyway.”