With their proposal this week to radically restructure Medicare, House Republicans are gambling with one of the central electoral breakthroughs that powered their recapture of the House last fall.
One key to the 2010 Republican landslide was the sharp move toward them among seniors — many of whom feared that President Obama's health care plan would siphon resources from Medicare to fund expanded coverage for the uninsured.
Those gains are compounding the stakes for the GOP in the rapidly intensifying debate over the blueprint House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled this week because they left the party heavily reliant on senior-oriented districts for their House majority.
In 2010, Republicans won a commanding 59 percent of voters 65 and older in House races, according to the Edison Research exit poll. That was, by far, the GOP's best performance among the elderly in House races in any election over the past three decades. White seniors provided Republicans an overwhelming 63 percent of their vote last year, the exit poll found. Moreover, seniors constituted an unusually large share of the vote, nearly one-fourth.
Boosted by that advantage, Republicans made major gains in older districts around the country. After 2010, Republicans now control 99 of the 150 House districts with the highest proportion of elderly residents, according to a National Journal analysis of data from the Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey. (District-level data on seniors from the 2010 Census is not yet available.) Republicans captured 33 of those 99 seats — while losing two others — last fall.