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Democrats battling to regain control of Congress have put GOP efforts to gut Obamacare front and center in their campaigns. In ad after ad, Dems have hammered their opponents for voting to scrap protections for people with preexisting conditions and jack up premiums on older people. Today, Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator from West Virginia, unveiled a remarkable contribution to that genre: In a new video spot, he fires a shotgun into a copy of a Republican-backed lawsuit that argues that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.
The ad targets a lawsuit brought by more than 20 GOP governors and attorneys general who contended that President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax bill, which eliminated the penalty imposed on taxpayers who don’t have health insurance, made the entire health care law unconstitutional. If the lawsuit succeeds, millions of Americans with preexisting conditions could suddenly find themselves unable to purchase health insurance. Manchin’s Republican challenger, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
And Manchin makes that association clear in the ad. As he loads the shotgun and prepares to fire, Manchin declares, “The threat is Patrick Morrisey’s lawsuit to take away health care from people with preexisting conditions.” Manchin then aims and turns to the camera to say of Morrissey, before firing, “He is just dead wrong, and that ain’t gonna happen.”
This isn’t Manchin’s first ad to take (literal) aim at political positions he doesn’t agree with. During his first run for Senate in 2012, Manchin fired a rifle into a climate change bill that would have hurt his state’s coal industry. This year’s ad opens with footage from the 2012 spot before cutting to present-day Manchin. “Hey, I haven’t changed,” he says. “I might be a few years older, but I’ll still take on anyone that messes with West Virginia.”
Health care has been a huge focus for Democrats: Last month, a USA Today analysis found that Senate Dems and their allies have devoted almost 56,000 advertisements—more than 40 percent of all of their ads so far—to health care; those buys that have cost more than $17 million dollars. That’s been especially true for incumbent Democratic Senators who, like Manchin, face tough reelection fights in states that voted for Trump. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) have similarly emphasized the threats posed to people with preexisting conditions in recent advertisements. Manchin, like his aforementioned Senate colleagues, stops short of referring directly to the “Affordable Care Act” or “Obamacare”—likely a nod to the fact that the components of the law tend to be far more popular among red state voters than the former president who championed it.
And of course, Manchin’s use of a firearm is a clear message to the states’ gun rights voters, who may be wary of the senator’s stance on the issue. Manchin, along with Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, sponsored a failed 2013 measure that would have established background checks for all gun sales. Today’s ad is the second Manchin dropped in the last week featuring a firearm. Another spot, released last Friday, notes Manchin’s commitment to protect the Second Amendment “always.”