Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards made it clear Thursday after announcing her bid for the U.S. Senate that she isn’t interested in getting involved in the “Medicare for All” push that has helped shape the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Political analysts say Ms. Edwards is among a number of Democrats running in competitive congressional races that recognize the Medicare for All plan that has electrified liberal activists could end up hurting them if their party’s presidential nominee is gung-ho about a single-payer health care plan.
“It is a losing issue in Texas for Democrats,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.
The split over Medicare for All has been the defining issue of the presidential primary race. Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont has thrust the idea into the mainstream, forcing his rivals to pick sides.
His allies say the push is a political winner, arguing that the change would guarantee universal coverage and would mean people would no longer pay health insurance premiums or co-payments, saving them money even though taxes would rise.
Arguments to the contrary, they maintain, are bogus.
“It is nonsense to say Medicare for All is going to hurt anybody on the Democratic ticket,” said Nina Turner, co-chair of the Sanders campaign. “It is popular, it is good for politics. The more people learn about Medicare for All, the more they maintain their support.
“Either the Democrats are going to prove they are the party of the people, or they are not,” she said. “Either they are going to grow a damn spine, or they are not. It is time to stop playing games, and the way to do that is with Medicare for All.”
Still, many candidates are being careful about jumping onto the bandwagon.
In Arizona, former astronaut Mark Kelly set the tone for his challenge against Republican Sen. Martha McSally during his first live television interview, saying the federal government should “provide access to affordable health care for everybody, but I am not in favor, for the 156 million of us that get our health care through our employer, to make that go away.”
Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, the most vulnerable incumbent Democrat, and his allies have shared similar sentiments, raising concerns about a single-payer system and saying the Democrats would be better off running down ticket from a White House hopeful who favors a government-run public option.
“It think it would make life easier here,” said Richard Mauk, chair of the Jefferson County Democratic Party in Alabama and Mr. Jones’ friend. “I don’t think Medicare for All’s time is here yet for a majority of the people.”
Come fall 2020, though, Mr. Jones could be fighting for his political life with the ticket headed by Mr. Sanders or other such candidates as Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala D. Harris of California, who have endorsed a single-payer system.
Mr. Sanders isn’t budging.
“Instead of massive profits for the drug companies, the insurance companies and Wall Street, we must provide a health care system that provides quality health care to all in a cost-effective way,” Mr. Sanders said this week. “And that is exactly what Medicare for All does.”
Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP’s campaign, has sought to weaken some of their Democratic targets by accusing them of refusing to say whether they, too, support the Sanders plan.
The radioactive nature of the debate has tied some of the presidential candidates in knots. Ms. Harris has sent mixed signals on whether she would abolish private insurance as Mr. Sanders has forthrightly said he would do.
“The speed that Kamala Harris showed in walking back her support in the debate for abolishing private insurance, on ‘Morning Joe,’ less than 12 hours after she raised her hand, indicating support for eliminating private insurance, demonstrates the recognition that there is considerable pushback to that position,” said Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report.
Polls show that voters support expanding access to health care, but they tend to change their tune when they learn about the possible trade-offs of having to pay more in taxes or being forced to drop their private health care coverage.
Mr. Jones, the political science professor, said if Democrats elect a Medicare for All candidate, then “it pours a bucket of cold water on the idea of turning Texas blue — at least in the short term.”
“It is a major loser issue with swing votes in the middle,” he said. “It is not going to cost Democrats any blue or light blue seats, but it does have the potential to cost them purple or light pink seats that they are presently trying to flip.”
In other words, it would put a dent in Texas Democrats’ hopes of unseating Mr. Cornyn and picking up House seats now controlled by Republican Reps. Will Hurd, Pete Olson and John R. Carter. Democrats, including Reps. Colin Z. Allred and Lizzie Fletcher, would have to be more defensive.
John Couvillon, a pollster, said Reps. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Lucy McBath of Georgia and Kendra S. Horn of Oklahoma also could face tougher reelection odds if their party’s standard-bearer is all about Medicare for All.
“If you are talking about Medicare for All as a vehicle for eliminating private insurance, that would be an electoral disaster for Democrats,” he said. “In essence, it would be as if the Democrats have handed Republicans a weapon.”