Election strategy: Dems retreat on health care cost pitch

Ben Smith
Politico.com
8/19/2010

Key White House allies are dramatically shifting their attempts to defend health care legislation, abandoning claims that it will reduce costs and the deficit and instead stressing a promise to “improve it.”

The messaging shift was circulated this afternoon on a conference call and PowerPoint presentation organized by FamiliesUSA — one of the central groups in the push for the initial legislation. The call was led by a staffer for the Herndon Alliance, which includes leading labor groups and other health care allies. It was based on polling from three top Democratic pollsters, John Anzalone, Celinda Lake and Stan Greenberg.

The confidential presentation, available in full here and provided to POLITICO by a source on the call, suggests that Democrats are acknowledging the failure of their predictions that the health care legislation would grow more popular after its passage, as its benefits became clear and rhetoric cooled. Instead, the presentation is designed to win over a skeptical public and to defend the legislation — in particular, the individual mandate — from a push for repeal.

The presentation concedes that groups typically supportive of Democratic causes — people under 40, non-college-educated women and Hispanic voters — have not been won over by the plan. Indeed, it stresses repeatedly, many are unaware that the legislation has passed, an astonishing shortcoming in the White House’s all-out communications effort…

…The presentation also concedes that the fiscal and economic arguments that were the White House’s first and most aggressive sales pitch have essentially failed…

…The presentation advises, instead, sales pitches that play on personal narratives and promises to change the legislation.

“People can be moved from initial skepticism and support for repeal of the law to favorable feelings and resisting repeal,” it says. “Use personal stories — coupled with clear, simple descriptions of how the law benefits people at the individual level — to convey critical benefits of reform.”

The presentation also counsels against the kind of grand claims of change that accompanied the legislation’s passage.

“Keep claims small and credible; don’t overpromise or ‘spin’ what the law delivers,” it says, suggesting supporters say, “The law is not perfect, but it does good things and helps many people. Now we’ll work to improve it.”…

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