The Affordable Care Act’s rocky rollout has put Democrats and the White House back on defense -- allowing Republicans who were deeply divided over, and under fire for, the partial government shutdown to unite and focus on the failures of HealthCare.gov.
Not coincidentally, a handful of Democrats up for re-election next year in swing and red states have broken ranks with the Obama administration.
New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen sent a letter to the president demanding an extension of the deadline to sign up, and almost immediately was joined by Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mary Pryor of Arkansas.
None of them was willing to delay or even negotiate ObamaCare a few weeks ago, in the heat of the budget impasse.
Pryor is perhaps the most vulnerable Democrat in the country. Conservative super PACs like the Club for Growth are pounding him. One such ad growls: "We know Mark Pryor supports ObamaCare but lately he's gotten even more extreme.”
Pryor voted against any delays in ObamaCare during the partial shutdown; he also voted against a Republican attempt to force members of Congress and other government officials onto the ObamaCare exchanges without extra subsidies.
Two other Democrats who are not even up for re-election -- Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and moderate West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin -- have also broken ranks with the White House to back a delay. Manchin is co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation with Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia to delay the individual mandate by a year.
There is ample evidence suggesting Republicans were blamed in the polls for the partial government shutdown, but the refusal to negotiate by the White House and congressional Democrats coupled with the ObamaCare launch debacle have eclipsed much of that.
"You look at the 17 days of the shutdown and compare that to how many days we’re gonna be watching these critical ObamCare rollout stories -- something tells me the critical stories about ObamaCare rollout are going to last a lot longer than 17 days," University of Virginia Professor Larry Sabato said.
He said 2014 will be worse for Democrats and the administration. "That sixth-year election tends to unite the opposition because there are so many vulnerable spots for the incumbent president’s party, that's what brings them back together. There's nothing like the smell of victory in a lot of different places to pull a coalition together," Sabato said.
Both parties acknowledge that the House Republican majority is not significantly at risk in 2014. Democrats would need to pick up 17 seats to take over and given the nature of gerrymandered congressional districting, it does not appear right now that is likely.
In the Senate, Republicans need just six seats to capture the majority. The GOP has targeted Democratic incumbents and open seats in Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, North Carolina, Colorado, Michigan, Oregon, Montana and New Hampshire.
But winning six of nine contests is no easy task, and Democrats are targeting two seats for pickups: Georgia, where incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss is retiring and a brutal GOP primary could hand the seat to Democrats; and Kentucky, where Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell faces a tough Tea Party primary challenge and Democrats have a formidable general election candidate for next fall. Knocking off an incumbent is difficult, but knocking off a party leader is very rare.
The GOP has a path to the Senate majority, but it is narrow with little margin for error. The party appears to have two key political considerations going forward: looming budget and debt-ceiling deadlines, which Democrats could use to pummel Republicans if they result in a partial shutdown during an election year, and fundraising. Some big Republican donors are staying on the sidelines to see how the internal fight with the Tea Party plays out -- and right now Democrats are collecting more cash.