Supreme Court health care decision likely to spark fight in Connecticut Senate race

Washington -- The Supreme Court's decision on the constitutionality of the health care act will put the justices on the front lines of political campaigns this summer and likely fire up Connecticut's Senate race.

The Supreme Court will issue a ruling, probably in late June, that would uphold the Affordable Care Act, toss out the whole law, or reject its mandate to buy health insurance.

But no matter what the justices' decision is, analysts say the outcome will be political fodder for Republican candidates like Linda McMahon and former Rep. Chris Shays, who are running for the seat of retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman.

"Republicans are likely to be energized either way," said Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report. "If the court upholds the law, then they will continue to talk about the individual mandate and some other aspects like the 'death panels.' If it is overturned, they can claim a major victory against President Obama and campaign on their solution."

Both Shays and McMahon have vowed to vote for a repeal of the law if it survives the Supreme Court's review.

"I think the bill is fatally flawed and regardless of how the Supreme Court decides, I will continue to make the case that the entire law needs to be repealed." Shays said.

For McMahon, putting an end to the health care act is part of her six-part "Jobs Plan," said campaign spokeswoman Erin Isaac.

"She wants to end job-killing regulations like Obamacare" -- the derisive name Republicans use for the Affordable Care Act -- Isaac said.

In her earlier bid for the Senate, in 2010, McMahon had said repeal of the health care law would be among her first priorities. She said the ACA's goal of covering the uninsured was "admirable." But McMahon also said the law "has the potential of clogging the health care system, because we don't have enough doctors."

Duffy said the impact of the court's decision for Democrats who support the ACA -- like Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and state Rep. William Tong --  "is murkier."

A loss at the Supreme Court could energize the Democratic base. A win would be political validation.

"But there's disagreement among party strategists whether Democrats win regardless of the verdict. (Democratic strategist) James Carville belongs to this camp," Duffy said. "Others believe that Obama, and other Democrats by association, lose if it is overturned, but can claim a big win if it is upheld."

Murphy, the only candidate running for the Senate in Connecticut who was able to vote on the Affordable Care Act, said he did not know how the justices would rule -- or how that decision would affect his campaign.

Both the president and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said this week they are certain the health care law will be upheld.

"Ultimately, I am confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress," Obama said.

Jonathan Ducote, spokesman for the Bysiewicz campaign, said the political fight over the Supreme Court's decision will be more vigorous in the presidential race than "down ballot" contests like the Connecticut Senate race.

The ACA's fate is likely to be discussed in upcoming Senate candidate debates.

But Ducote said some of the heat of that political fight may dissipate in the six weeks or so between the high court's June announcement and Connecticut's Aug. 14 primary. Democrats supporting the ACA and Republicans who loathe it will fully engage after that primary.

If the Supreme Court rejects the ACA, Ducote said Bysiewicz would campaign on the need to find an alternative "to help Americans whose health care would be threatened."

Duffy said this could be a popular strategy for Democrats.

"If it is overturned, I would think Democratic candidates would run on the need to go back to the drawing board and fix it so Republicans don't," she said.

But Murphy, who has supported the concept of a government-run  health care plan option championed by liberals, said, "I don’t accept the notion that we should be making contingency plans right now."

The Court's decision on the health care act is likely to also resonate in the state's other hot federal race, the one for the open 5th District congressional seat.

But Lincoln Mitchell, a professor at Columbia University's School for International and Public Policy, said Connecticut's political candidates should be careful not to turn off already jaundiced independent voters who don't want a replay of 2010's ugly health care fight.

"I don't get a sense swing voters care much about health care," he said.

For those voters, and many others in Connecticut, the main concern will be the economy, he said.