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Inside Politics: Two days of reckoning for Obamacare

By John King, CNN Chief National Correspondent
updated 12:18 PM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • March 31 is big deadline for Obamacare enrollment, but November elections are true test
  • To win, Democrats will have to change narrative that Obamacare is a failure
  • Support for the health care law is divided along partisan and racial lines
  • Democratic midterm turnout among minorities, young voters tends to drop

Program note: John King and other top political reporters talk about the politics of health care, as well as what the next big political stories will be, on "Inside Politics," at 8:30 a.m. ET Sunday, and at 7:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on "New Day."

Washington (CNN) -- This year's first day of reckoning for President Barack Obama's signature domestic initiative is fast approaching. The second is seven-plus months away.

The big question: Will the math on the first have anything to do with the math on the second?

March 31 is the first benchmark: the first big enrollment deadline for what Democrats prefer to call the Affordable Care Act. The second is Election Day in November.

The administration is all but certain to fall short of its stated enrollment goal of 7 million. But after a disastrous initial rollout, crossing the 6 million mark by the March 31 deadline appears within reach, and the White House will make the case that it is a policy success that leaves the program on a firm footing.

But whether the improving numbers can be used to reshape the political climate as it relates to the health care law depends on whether Democrats on the ballot this year in competitive races have the courage to more forcefully rebut the Republican argument that the health care law is a disaster.

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Nancy Pelosi sees a shifting tide.

"I believe that it's a winner," the House minority leader said Thursday. But she then added the critical part: "That is a case we have to make."

Some of Pelosi's point is personal: She was House speaker when the health care law passed, and it is a proud piece of her legislative legacy. Some of her appeal, though, is raw politics: She believes that Democrats who run from the health care law only help Republicans who are making it their focus in the midterm campaign.

She is at the moment a lonely voice in making the case that Democrats should celebrate the law, not distance themselves from it. And the latest polling underscores her challenge in persuading Democrats in tough races -- especially statewide Senate contests -- to be more open, and aggressive, in promoting the law.

A Pew Center survey released Thursday found that 53% of Americans disapprove of the 2010 health care law; 41% approve.

Here's a nugget in that survey that Pelosi could use to make her case: A majority of those who oppose the Affordable Care Act think politicians should enact fixes to make it work better.

But most of the data suggest the issue will remain a potent one for the GOP.

Though 72% of Democrats support the law, only 37% of independents and 8% of Republicans do.

And the potency of the health care issue for the GOP comes into stark focus when you dig deeper into the demographic splits in the Pew data.

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Obama: Democrats get 'clobbered' in midterms

In a midterm year, turnout among African-Americans and Latinos tends to drop significantly, something Obama lamented yet again Thursday night at a Democratic fundraising dinner.

"In midterms, we get clobbered," the President said, "either because we don't think it's important or we've become so discouraged about what's happening in Washington that we think it's not worth our while."

History suggests the midterm electorate will be older and whiter than in a presidential year, something that would tilt the scales -- on health care and other issues -- in the GOP direction.

Consider this from the Pew health care survey: Seventy-seven percent of blacks support the law, as do 47% of Hispanics. But just 33% of whites support the law. And just 35% of those over the age of 65 support the law; 56% oppose it.

In presidential years, when more younger voters and people of color turn out, the demographics favor Democrats. But this year, the GOP appears likely to have a demographic advantage and one magnified by the fact that those most likely to vote in November are least likely to support the President's health care law.

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