Rep. Rick Nolan didn't vote for the Affordable Care Act, but you might not know it listening to ads attacking the Minnesota Democrat this political season.
Nolan came to Congress in 2013, more than two years after the act, known as Obamacare, became law. But his refusal to vote to kill the law is turning into a key issue in what could become one of the nation's most fiercely contested congressional races this year.
Ads began running last year in Minnesota's 8th District that attacked the health care law as damaging to Minnesotans and criticized Nolan for voting to keep it. The ads were paid for by "Americans for Prosperity," a conservative special interest group founded by the billionaire oil tycoon Koch brothers.
Nolan expects Obamacare will be a central pillar of the campaign against him through Election Day.
"Oh, there's no question about it," he said. "We had 47 bills before the House to repeal the Affordable Care Act. I'm cognizant of some of the problems associated with that, and I'm working to fix those problems associated with it. The Republicans are only interested in repealing it."
Nolan voted with House Republicans to allow people to keep their health plans even if they failed to meet minimum standards under the ACA.
Nolan strongly favors single-payer national health care, but said Obamacare offers many benefits, including the removal of lifetime limits on health insurance payouts and stopping insurance companies from denying coverage to people with preexisting medical conditions.
The fact that an outside group went after him over Obamacare so early should be of concern to the people he represents, he added.
"What do the billionaire oil Koch brothers have to do with Minnesota's 8th District? Nothing," Nolan said. "But, you know, they're the ones that are pumping a tremendous amount of money into these campaigns."
Repealing Obamacare is one of the priorities of Nolan's GOP opponent, Stewart Mills.
"There's ways that we can increase access and we can bring down the cost of health insurance. The Affordable Care Act, "Obamacare," is not the way to do it," Mills said when he announced his campaign in October.
Supporters cheered as Mills blamed Obamacare for destroying the nation's health care economy.
Last week, Mills told a Twin Cities chamber of commerce group his family's chain of Fleet Farm stores brought down employee health care costs by encouraging healthy lifestyles.
In an interview following the chamber speech Mills defended his opposition to Obamacare. Even though people who buy health insurance end up footing the bill for those who don't, Mills says it's wrong to require everyone to enroll in health plans.
"Socialism doesn't work. Consumerism does work," he said. "I don't think it's the government's business to tell you what you have to do and what you have to buy."
Instead, Mills said he would increase competition in the health care marketplace to make insurance more affordable.
"Certainly we can buy insurance across state lines. We can have price transparency over non-life-threatening care."
Mills said he would also support increasing the amount of money people could put in health savings accounts.
It also makes more sense for government to support safety net programs to insure the uninsurable rather than require insurance companies to cover everyone, he added.
And as for keeping kids on parents' plans until they're 26, Mills said parents who want that should pay for it, not pass along the cost to everyone else.
A WINNING STRATEGY?
Most polls show a majority of Americans oppose the Affordable Care Act.
But it's premature to assume bashing Obamacare will be a winning strategy in November, said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, a national political newsletter.
"We're going to be going through some times when voters might be reevaluating how they feel about it. As they get new coverage, do they like it or do they hate it? Are they paying more or are they paying less?" Gonzales said. "There are going to be a lot of things that happen over the next six, eight, nine months that I think could reframe the Affordable Care Act debate."
For now, at least, Republicans see anger over the health care law as a winning issue.