STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Here's a consequence of dragging out the healthcare debate until an election year. Democrats face united Republican opposition. They're desperately trying to stay united themselves in the face of much lobbying pressure. And that pressure is only growing more intense because many Democrats are looking toward their reelection campaigns in November. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Congressman Mike Arcuri is a Democrat representing a historically Republican district in upstate New York. Arcuri supported the House version of the health care overhaul back in November. Opponents hope to change his mind by reaching out to voters in his district.
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U: Our Congressman Mike Arcuri voted for Obama and Pelosi's health care takeover.
HORSLEY: Arcuri's one of 11 lawmakers targeted in these TV ads by a group calling itself the League of American Voters.
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U: America said slow down, but now Pelosi and Obama are at it again. And they want Arcuri as the decide vote in a last minute deal to take over your health care.
HORSLEY: The League is spending a quarter million dollars a week on these ads. And brace yourself for a wave of dinnertime telemarketing calls, brought to you by the House Republicans' campaign committee.
In an effort to reassure nervous House members and shore up support for his health care plan, President Obama hosted more than a dozen members of Congress for back-to-back meetings at the White House yesterday. Spokesman Robert Gibbs says next week the president will take his campaign on the road, with health care events in Philadelphia and St. Louis.
M: The president will describe the benefits of the legislation, why this is important for our country and why it's important for them. And again reiterating what happens if we walk away from reform, what happens if everyone just takes their toys and goes home.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama's also hoping to mobilize the network of grassroots supporters that helped to elect him - this time in the service of his legislative agenda. Spokeswoman Lynda Tran says Organizing for America volunteers have promised to spend millions of hours this year, working for lawmakers who support the health care proposal.
M: You can bet that you're going to be seeing OFA people on the phones, on the doors, and on the streets in the coming weeks.
HORSLEY: But President Obama and his supporters have already been making their case for almost a year. And while polls show voters support many of the provisions included in the health care bill, they're still uncomfortable with the overall package. Political analyst Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report is skeptical Democrats can suddenly start winning the messaging war they've been losing so far.
M: Republicans have done a very effective job raising anxieties, raising questions about this, increasing doubt to the point that people just sort of pull back.
HORSLEY: Democrats may have gotten a helping hand in recent weeks from an unlikely source: insurance companies. News that a California insurer tried to raise premiums by up to 39 percent has become a rallying cry at the White House, and a reminder that even those who have insurance are at risk in the current system. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius drove that message home yesterday during a White House meeting with insurance executives.
INSKEEP: People across America are really frightened that they're being priced out of the market. They're terrified that they're next.
HORSLEY: White House spokesman Gibbs said that anxiety has helped to crystallize people's concerns about the existing health care system. At a time when many Americans are focused on their pocketbooks, runaway insurance bills underscore the idea that health care is an economic issue.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.
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