Will Obamacare Play Big In 2014? Keep An Eye On N.H. Senate Race Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a popular Democrat, former governor and strong proponent of the Affordable Care Act, is taking some heat back home for the problems with HealthCare.gov. She faces re-election next year, but a formidable Republican opponent has yet to emerge.
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Will Obamacare Play Big In 2014? Keep An Eye On N.H. Senate Race

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Will Obamacare Play Big In 2014? Keep An Eye On N.H. Senate Race

Will Obamacare Play Big In 2014? Keep An Eye On N.H. Senate Race

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Now in this country the Obama administration says the worst is over for the healthcare.gov website. Democratic candidates for reelection find out next year if the worst is over for them. NPR's Ailsa Chang reports on Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Step inside a small diner called Chez Vachon in a working class section of Manchester, New Hampshire, and you'd never guess the White House is actually regaining its footing on the healthcare rollout. Promising enrollment numbers, a faster website - Sure. But John Hill couldn't care less.

JOHN HILL: My insurance just went up $1,000. We asked why the price of the insurance was so high. They said, well, the new Obamacare law. That's the reason why.

CHANG: That law had some pretty severe repercussions here. A strong Tea Party faction in the state legislature voted down a state health insurance exchange so everyone has to sign up on the federal government website instead.


CHANG: But that exchange has attracted only one insurance provider for New Hampshire: Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. And Anthem shut out 10 of the state's 26 hospitals from its health plans on the exchange, which means hour-long drives for lots of people in Northern New Hampshire who need to see a doctor.

Hill says this is why he isn't voting for Senator Jeanne Shaheen next year.

HILL: She voted for this, she knew what she was getting into. Now she realizes, Ooh, this is a big mistake.

CHANG: What Hill is referring to is Shaheen's move to become one of most vocal Democrats to criticize the launch. She's demanded an extension of the enrollment period. She's asked the president to appoint someone to oversee website fixes into next year.

Theresa Avard says Shaheen is just trying to have it both ways, by distancing herself from a law so many people in New Hampshire hate.

THERESA AVARD: You can't be a yo-yo. I'm sorry, you know. That's what I call my grandchildren when they don't do right. You know, they yo-yo, up and down.

CHANG: Shaheen rejects the suggestion that she's just protecting herself for the next election cycle.

SENATOR JEANNE SHAHEEN: This should not be about politics. This should be about good policy. I've been working on healthcare issues since I first was elected to the State Senate, from the Seacoast of New Hampshire, over 20 years ago.

CHANG: On this day, she's touring the National Visa Center in Portsmouth, to draw attention to a program granting visas for Iraqis and Afghans who risked their lives working for the U.S. Since the rollout of the new healthcare law, Shaheen hasn't hosted any town hall meetings. Though she says her office has been inundated with angry complaints from people upset about the launch. Still, Shaheen says she's not freaking out yet about next fall.

SHAHEEN: It's a long time from now to 2014. And I think we're going to get the problems fixed with the healthcare law. I think there will probably be other things that come up, just as there are when we're making that significant a policy change. But the way to deal with it to find those fixes - to make sure that it does it work for people.

CHANG: Toppling Shaheen in 2014 is going to take a formidable force. She was a popular three-term governor who's still enjoying pretty solid poll numbers. Former Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts keeps flirting with the idea of running against her, and he has the star power, but he still won't commit. Bob Smith, another former U.S. senator, has declared. But he still needs to move back to New Hampshire from Florida, where he failed twice to win a Senate seat. And the other Republican candidates just don't have much name recognition.

JIM RUBENS: Afternoon, sir. Jim Rubens, candidate for U.S. Senate.

CHANG: Rubens, a former state senator, is working the street in downtown Manchester.

RUBENS: Seeking to replace the incumbent Jeanne Shaheen and deal with the nation's debt and economic stagnation, and utter mistrust in Washington problems. You have any comments or suggestions?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, I support the senator.

RUBENS: You do?


RUBENS: Tell me about...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, I think she's doing a great job.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah, absolutely.

RUBENS: What do you think about Obamacare, telling people to take their...


RUBENS: Even though your insurance is being taken away.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, no. It's not being taken away...

CHANG: As split as New Hampshire is over the healthcare law, it's a big question whether people are going to be focusing on other things by next fall.

BOB GARON: Oh God, does that muffin look good?

CHANG: Back at the diner, Chez Vachon, Bob Garon says Republicans need to give up on their obsession with the Affordable Care Act.

GARON: I really don't think that we are going to elect a politician because of Obamacare. I think what's going to sink-in is it's the law - whether you like it or not. You can bounce it around and play tennis with it all you want, but it's the damn law.

CHANG: But the New Hampshire State Republican Party says it plans to make Obamacare a central issue next fall. Even if the website is fixed, the party expects the healthcare law to be the gift that keeps on giving.

Ailsa Chang, NPR News.

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