WASHINGTON – Republicans preparing to challenge U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., next year may not have a leading candidate, but they believe they’ve been handed a gold-plated issue in the tumultuous rollout of President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul.
While Obama famously said he will never face another election, the same is not true for Franken, who became an instant GOP target after his 2009 recount win over Republican Norm Coleman. In a narrowly divided Senate, Franken’s support for the Affordable Care Act was critical to its passage.
Franken has largely steered clear of controversy in the Senate and continues to poll well at home. But while he is in a commanding position going into 2014, Franken faces a national GOP playbook that is betting heavily on worsening problems in the implementation of the health-care law.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has vowed to “tattoo it to their forehead in 2014.” Obama has acknowledged the “burden” the rollout has put on Democrats.
Franken, like other Senate Democrats facing re-election, has pressed feverishly to repair damage that appears to be escalating well beyond the technical glitches that have plagued the HealthCare.gov. website.
Low initial enrollment numbers, canceled policies and widespread discontent with the website are contributing to a sense of siege among Democrats in Congress
A Democratic lawmaker recently told The Hill newspaper that Franken appeared visibly “agitated” during a recent briefing by White House officials. In a subsequent White House meeting, Franken said he and other Democrats expressed their “frustration” with the federal website, which is separate from MNsure, the site for Minnesota’s health-care exchange.
Several of the senators accompanying Franken were red-state Democrats facing re-election: Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Mark Begich of Alaska. Franken, in contrast, hails from a purple state where the law has been more widely embraced.