ATLANTA -- On a recent sweltering August morning, Congresswoman Lucy McBath headlined a rally extolling the Affordable Care Act's protections for patients. But the freshman Democrat, who represents a fast-changing swath of Atlanta's northern suburbs, took care not to mention the 9-year-old law's name from the podium even once.
"Families should not have to choose between paying for medicine and paying for a mortgage," she told supporters gathered at the Georgia Capitol.
It's not a stretch to see why Democrats are homing in on health care in the lead-up to next year's elections. The party used the issue as a cudgel in the 2018 midterms -- and it worked.
But Republicans say this time things will be different. And the fine line McBath walked shows they may be onto something.
With the 2018 elections in the rear-view mirror, Democrats like McBath who leaned on protecting the ACA, also known as Obamacare, now know they found a winning pitch. Republicans know it too. The issue helped Democrats win a majority in the U.S. House and come closer than ever to winning back the governor's office. And recent polls show health care remains a top issue for voters in general.
But 2020 isn't 2018. For Democrats, it's no longer as simple as saying they oppose repeal of the ACA. Now they have to be specific on what they support. That is creating rifts.
For Republicans, previous unsuccessful efforts to repeal the health care law have time to fade in the background. In the meantime, the Trump administration is trying, with mixed success, to take aim at high-profile consumer concerns such as high medical prices and surprise billing, where patients wind up with unexpected charges from gaps in their insurance. Candidates are taking his lead.
On the state level, Gov. Brian Kemp has made health care a central issue of his office, with Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, also a Republican, latching on to those efforts.
And just to spice things up, there is a wild card in the deck. By the time Georgia voters make their call in 2020, a lawsuit filed by GOP attorneys general -- including Georgia's -- might overturn the entire health care law, including its now popular provisions protecting coverage for preexisting conditions and other benefits.
At different points over the last several years, both parties have been able to successfully argue that the opposing side would take coverage away from people, and that's what's at stake if the court overturns the ACA, said Amy Steigerwalt, a political science professor at Georgia State University.