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Obamacare Stars As Villain In Alabama Special Election

Wells Griffith

To understand just how deep the GOP resistance to Obamacare runs — and why some Republicans would risk a federal government shutdown to defund it — look no further than the special House election in Alabama.

You've probably never heard of the race because it's received virtually no attention outside Alabama. But it's a useful barometer for gauging the ferocity of opposition to the Affordable Care Act among the party faithful.

The primary, which takes place Tuesday, features nine Republican candidates vying to replace former GOP Rep. Jo Bonner, who resigned last month to take a vice chancellor position at the University of Alabama. In this conservative, Mobile-based seat, the Republican primary is really the only contest that matters since it will effectively decide who the next congressman will be.

The animating issue in Tuesday's crowded primary? President Obama and his signature health care law.

"It's terribly unpopular in Alabama to the point that this is going to be a major issue for some time to come until it's repealed," explained Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead.

That's an understatement. One candidate literally throws a copy of the Affordable Care Act into the trash in his most recent campaign advertisement.

"[T]his document, Obamacare, is why I'm running for Congress," former Republican National Committee aide Wells Griffith says in the television spot, just before defiantly tossing a stack of papers into a garbage can. "Because we won't get back to creating jobs until these thousands of pages of economic destruction are relegated to the trash pile of history."

Griffith doesn't stop there. He's also pledged to refuse congressional health care, if elected, until the Affordable Care Act is no longer the law of the land.

Griffith isn't alone in his disdain: All of his opponents in Tuesday's primary are in favor of repealing the health care law, with the only difference being just how forcefully they oppose it.

One candidate, conservative newspaper columnist Quin Hillyer, writes on his website that Obamacare "must be decapitated," and warns that the "unconstitutional and illegitimate law" will lead to "catastrophic economic and practical consequences to our health care infrastructure and the country as a whole."

Fred Barnes, the nationally known conservative political commentator, appears in a TV ad on Hillyer's behalf, saying that Hillyer "knows exactly how to topple Obamacare" and "can defend us from Obama's abuses."

They're not the only ones running ads emphasizing their ACA opposition. Dean Young, who attempted to unseat Bonner in the 2012 primary, is benefiting from a TV ad launched by 2010 GOP Nevada Senate nominee Sharron Angle's superPAC, which emphasizes that Young will vote to defund Obamacare.

Angle joins several other prominent conservatives in taking sides in the race. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin backed Griffith shortly after he entered the race, while former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum has thrown his support behind Hillyer. Santorum even recorded a radio ad promoting Hillyer for the conservative group Citizens United, citing Hillyer's position on defunding Obamacare.

If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote Tuesday — which seems likely given the crowded field — the top two finishers will go head to head in a Nov. 5 runoff election.

Bradley Byrne, a former state senator and gubernatorial candidate who called for the repeal of Obamacare in his announcement speech, is considered to be the slight favorite in the race.

Two Democrats and an independent are also running, but Republicans have been in firm control of Alabama's 1st Congressional District since 1964.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Adam Wollner