Last week, President Obama's pollster Joel Benenson sent a memo to congressional Democrats encouraging them to refocus attention on the economy and ignore the health care chaos that has consumed the administration for the last two months. The three-page set of talking points argued that the media's relentless focus on the Obamacare website is a "distraction" from more important work on the minds of voters.
But for Senate Democrats who backed the unpopular legislation, avoiding the subject isn't so easy. Republicans are armed with reams of polling data showing how the health care law could overturn the Democrats' majority, and are already hitting vulnerable Democrats on the subject. Indeed, Democrats who voted for the law face a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't crisis: flip-flop on legislation they actively embraced or tie themselves to an increasingly unpopular law that could doom their reelection prospects.
For now, as the White House keeps hope alive that the health care website will be mostly functional by the end of the week, Democrats are holding out hope their political fortunes will improve. Democratic operatives argue that voters are looking for constructive solutions over repealing the law — a proposition backed up by polling that shows repeal still hasn't reached majority support, even with voter frustrations growing. Some of the most vulnerable senators, like Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska, have proposed their own fixes to the legislation designed to inoculate them from blowback with their conservative constituencies back home. Even Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, a loyal ally of the president's on health care, suggested he could support a delay in the individual mandate if the website still isn't working in short order by the end of November.