RED OAK, Iowa: Republican Rep. David Young angered conservatives in Iowa when he initially opposed a House Republican health care bill then weeks later backed it. Independents were frustrated with the two-term congressman's embrace of a partisan approach to repealing and replacing Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
And now the Democrats are coming.
The collapse of the years-long Republican quest to dismantle "Obamacare" has been a bitter pill for House Republicans who voted for GOP legislation in May, only to see the drive fall apart in the Senate two weeks ago when the GOP failed to muster enough votes. All that many Republicans have to show for the politically tough vote is one word — "mean" — the adjective President Donald Trump used to describe legislation that would have made deep cuts in Medicaid, allowed states to opt out of coverage for essential benefits and knocked 23 million Americans off insurance.
The affirmative vote looms large for 21 GOP lawmakers, including Young, who represent competitive congressional districts around the country where Democrat Hillary Clinton won or came close in last year's presidential election.
This summer, Democrats embarked on a national tour of many of those districts, riding a bus with the words "Drive for our Lives," and reminding Americans how GOP lawmakers voted. Young, his Iowa colleague Rep. Rod Blum and cross-river neighbor Rep. Don Bacon in Nebraska are targets for a Midwest swing with the party determined to upend the GOP House majority in next year's midterms.
The bus is scheduled to roll into Iowa on Friday.
"David Young is not as conservative as some would like here in southwest Iowa," said Council Bluffs Republican David Overholtzer, a 56-year-old accountant.
"Things need to get done," said Jeff Jorgensen, a western Iowa Republican county chairman. "He's doing OK, but his chances for re-election are tied to Trump's popularity."
The Des Moines Register's Iowa poll last month showed Trump's disapproval climbing to 52 percent. The increase was driven largely by independents, 59 percent of whom disapproved of Trump's job performance, compared to 50 percent in February.
Independents, who hold sway in Young's politically diverse districts, want a bipartisan approach to health care.
"That's what I and others like me have been saying: Because of this fail, people might reach across the aisle and craft something together," said Mark Scherer, a 65-year-old manufacturing rep, and political independent from a north Des Moines' suburb.
Now, Young is threading the needle, talking bipartisanship as he faces the reality that Democrats are gunning for him in a state where Trump's approval is sinking and neither can boast a major legislative achievement.
"We've got to pivot for the good of the country to a more bipartisan solution," the 49-year-old Young, a former chief of staff to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, told The Associated Press during a visit to far western Iowa. "It's probably an easier, clearer path."
A national poll released Friday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that around 4 in 5 want the Trump administration to take actions that help Obama's law function properly, rather than trying to undermine it. Just 3 in 10 want Trump and Republicans to continue their drive to repeal and replace the statute.
Young defended his vote for the House GOP bill, arguing that Republicans added billions of dollars more to help people with pre-existing conditions.
Democrat Janet Norris from Red Oak, who met privately with Young in her western Iowa hometown last week, called his reasoning "doublespeak."
"You need to assure me you care about us in the 3rd District, and not what Republican leadership tells you to do," she recalled telling Young during their private chat at the Red Oak fire station.
Norris doesn't rule out voting next year for Young, who has drawn seven potential Democratic challengers, but cringed and said, "I just don't feel like he's independent enough."
Young's newly expressed less-partisan view is music to Republican Christi Taylor, 46, a physician from Waukee in Des Moines' burgeoning western suburbs, heavy with moderate Republicans and independents.
But she lamented Republicans' attempt at passing speedy, GOP-only legislation. "This is not something any one party should ram through," Taylor said, describing the House's effort as "naive and arrogant."
Democrat Bryce Smith from nearby Adel agrees with Young that the 2010 law needs "tweaking," not shredding. The 26-year-old small business owner complains that Young's bipartisan tone is convenient, in light of the spectacular collapse of Republican efforts.
"All of a sudden, now that this failed, we need to approach it in a bipartisan way?" Smith said in disbelief. "If it would have passed the first time, we would have never heard from him that we need to work on a bipartisan solution."
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