President Obama’s Supreme Court win on health care Thursday could prove short-lived if Mitt Romney plays it right, analysts said, since the ruling could open the way for the Republican challenger to muster a new level of enthusiasm for his candidacy that he hasn’t been able to achieve so far.
Polls show that about 60 percent or more of voters dislike some or all of Mr. Obama’s law, and despite his and his party’s efforts to play up the law’s benefits, the overhaul has actually lost public support since the time it was passed in 2010.
Now that the legal fight appears settled, Mr. Romney has an opening to harness that opposition in support of his candidacy, activists with the tea party movement said.
Mr. Romney “can benefit from the defeat the court handed him by renewing and pushing his promise to do everything in his power to repeal Obamacare once he becomes president,” said Ralph King, a tea party leader in Ohio, a must-win swing state in November.
Despite a bad economy and Mr. Romney’s promise to repeal the health care law if elected, polls say the former Massachusetts governor trails Mr. Obama in Ohio and a number of other critical swing states.
The court loss could rally core Republican and tea party voters in those states to Mr. Romney’s cause, unifying the GOP after a sometimes divisive primary battle.
“The tea party in my state — and I think everywhere — is going to be even more energized and focused on defeating Obama and Obamacare as a result of this decision,” said Jason Hoyt, an activist with the Central Florida Tea Party.
The challenge for Mr. Romney will be to figure out a policy beyond the repeal.
Mr. Hoyt, for example, is not enthralled with the candidate’s “Repeal and Replace” slogan, because he says the “replace” part suggests more government intrusion that goes beyond the federal government’s constitutional powers.
Pollster John Zogby also takes a dim view of its appeal as a slogan to help Republicans win, saying many voters don’t want to go through another bitter and prolonged battle over health care. He said former President Clinton’s “amend, don’t end” strategy on welfare reform in the mid-1990s was a more attractive message for the political climate.
But where tea party activists saw an opening for Mr. Romney, Mr. Zogby saw one for the president.
“If Obama plays it right, he can rally voters to build a constituency that wasn’t there and make Republicans look small, if all they do is complain about the Supreme Court, its chief justice and its ruling and talk only about repeal,” Mr. Zogby said.
And David Lane, the California-based social conservative and founder of Pastors and Pews, said Mr. Romney will still have trouble rallying conservatives because of their doubts on his stance on social issues and other fronts.
“I don’t think Obamacare trumps the inherent problem Romney has with evangelicals and pro-life Catholics,” he said.
Mr. Romney “has surrounded himself with pro-abortion and pro-same sex marriage advisers and just the other day came out for adoption by homosexual couples,” Mr. Land said. “Romney is a flawed candidate who has no ability to move the evangelical and pro-life constituencies.”
Still, he said there are other reasons for those voters to show up at the polls in November, saying that a low turnout of evangelical and pro-life voters would leave conservatives “wiped out downstream, i.e., the conservative ‘farm team’ of mayors, city councilmen, county commissioners” who will also be on the ballot.
GOP pollster Whit Ayres said all the evidence he sees indicates Republicans are more excited about the election — maybe not for Mr. Romney but in opposition to Mr. Obama. The court’s ruling, which labeled the heart of Mr. Obama’s law a tax, will simply fire them up more.
“Now Obama has to defend a significant tax increase that is part of an unpopular law that 60 percent of voters, before the Supreme Court decision, had believed will increase their taxes, health care costs, insurance premiums and the national deficit,” Mr. Ayres said.