By Hugh McQuaid
Is the Affordable Care Act popular enough in Connecticut to campaign on? With less than two weeks left before Election Day, Elizabeth Esty is betting it is.
The Cheshire Democrat is competing against Republican Andrew Roraback for the open 5th Congressional District seat. She held a press conference in Farmington Thursday where she touted the benefits of the controversial health care reform law, and highlighted her opponents' intention to repeal it.
"Make no mistake, the Affordable Care Act isn't perfect but it goes so far and is so essential to keep in place. It's a critical first step and I will stand strongly by it with every breath that I have," Esty said.
Roraback, a state senator from Goshen, has run ads saying he would vote to repeal and replace the law, sometimes known as Obamacare. Roraback maintains that some aspects of the law are beneficial but as a whole it's too expensive and negatively impacts Connecticut businesses.
"There are a large number of small businesses in Connecticut, people who I've spoken with directly, who have chosen not to hire new employees because of the fear that they anticipate this law is going to cost them more money," he said back in June after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law.
But Esty said the reform measure has helped Connecticut residents. It allows people with preexisting conditions to get coverage and allows young people to stay on their parents' plan until the age of 26, she said.
Two Connecticut women spoke at Esty's press conference Thursday about how the law has helped them and their families. Neither live in the district though, so neither will be allowed to vote for her. The Connecticut chapter of the National Association of Social Workers also endorsed Esty based in part on her commitment to defending the Affordable Care Act.
Esty said it was critical to send someone to Congress who would vote to preserve Obamacare. She said House Republicans, whom she called "the club" Roraback has chosen to join, have voted to repeal the law 33 times despite a struggling economy and other pressing matters.
"Thirty-three times. They can't vote on a jobs bill, they can't raise the debt ceiling, but they can vote 33 times to deny American families access to health care coverage," she said.
Chris Cooper, Roraback's spokesman, said his candidate is committed to helping fix the nation's health care system, but does not consider the Affordable Care Act the right way to do it. The law is an expensive one that "over-promises and under-delivers," he said.
"Andrew Roraback is committed to health care reform but he does not support a trillion dollar federal program that when implemented will still leave more than 30 million Americans without health care coverage and would cause 25 to 30 million people to lose their employer-sponsored health coverage," Cooper said.
Given that there hasn't been recent polling specific to Connecticut on the issue, it's unclear whether voters agree.
Nationally the law seems generally unpopular with voters. A Quinnipiac poll in April found that 51 percent of American voters wanted Congress to repeal the law, while 49 percent wanted the Supreme Court to strike it down. Thirty-eight percent felt the court should uphold it.
In Connecticut, state lawmakers praised the legislation when it passed back in 2009 and they praised the Supreme Court when it upheld most of the law this summer.
Health care reform is likely more popular here in Connecticut than nationally, however. In the latest statewide poll of likely voters, President Barack Obama led Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger, by 14 points.