Any major political development in the middle of a presidential race can change the course of a campaign. This is especially true if it is directly related to the actions of a sitting president... and this one is a whopper.
The Supreme Court ruling will probably fire up the bases of both sides a bit more than they already are, but lets face it... most on both sides of the political spectrum have already decided who they're going to vote for. The most important variable here is how the Romney campaign will try to leverage this. Will they play to the base, or use it to go after swing voters?
If camp Romney was really smart, it would zero in on the individual mandate, rather than the healthcare bill in general. Romney doesn't need to fire up the base more, they've already consigned themselves to him as their lesser evil choice. He need to start peeling away at Obama's advantage among swing voters, and taking aim at the individual mandate could help him do that.
Even some big-ticket candidates are running against it.
North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, who’s seeking an open Senate seat in a state where Obama is expected to lose by a wide margin, went one step beyond Kaine. She promised to work across party lines and went so far as to criticize the mandate component.
“I’ll work with both parties to control costs, keep the good pieces intact and fix the bad pieces, like the individual mandate,” she said.
The Republicans are fooling themselves if they think they can translate this into a second huge wave election, giving them a big majority in the House and Senate, and the White House. They already took many of the vulnerable House seats in right leaning and swing districts, and while swing voters didn't like what the Democrats were doing when they had the Senate, House and White House, we don't like what the Republicans have done with their expanded minority the last year and a half either. Much like the Democrats squandered their narrow mandate between 2008 and 2010, the GOP made the choice to listen to their right wing base, rather than the swing voters that gave them the House in 2010.
But all they might need to take the White House, and hold the line in Congress, is boost turnout from their base a bit, and pull a few points their way from the still huge pool of undecided swing voters, to have an impact where it really counts. In the handful of states that will decide the election, a few points are likely to decide who gets to be the leader of the free world for the next four years. They might not be able to totally overturn the Affordable Care Act, but they might be able to toss out parts of it, especially if they get a few Democrats from purple districts and states to side with them on some piecemeal chipping away.
We already know that the Koch brothers are planning on pouring millions into swing state advertising, focusing on healthcare and the individual mandate. I'm sure that's just the tip of the spear. Even with the boost Obama and company have gotten from his very smart move on immigration, the individual mandate and the economy are two chinks in his armor that might just swing the election just enough to put Romney in the White House, if they play their cards well enough.
A hot-off-the-presses poll from Gallup shows how the GOP should play those cards, and how the Democrats might defend against the attacks from the right if they take wider aim at Obamacare in general.
Among independents, the number of people who'd like to see the role of government in healthcare expand is about the same as those who'd like to repeal the whole healthcare bill (25% for expanding, with 23% for total repeal). The Republicans would have an advantage if they coupled those wanting a total repeal with the 26% in this poll that would like to see part of the bill repealed.
But the GOP's recent record on political realism isn't exactly stellar. They would cede the strategic advantage to the Democrats if they went after the law wholesale, since the 25% who wants to expand the law can team up with the 15% that wants to keep the law as it is. Regardless, Obama and company would do well to spend a lot more time highlighting the aspects of the bill that are popular, and prey that the economy doesn't stay so bad, or get worse.