Democrat civil war in Maryland over Obamacare

It's blue vs. blue in Maryland as the state's Obamacare insurance exchange continues to have massive problems and questions about management of the site are not being answered to anyone's satisfaction.


Maryland gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler is incensed over the botched rollout of Affordable Care Act. He's aghast at chronic problems with Maryland's online enrollment platform and stunned that a state with "literally the smartest people in the country" would have hired a company from North Dakota, of all places, to help put its exchange in place. The whole spectacle, Gansler fumes, "is almost like a Saturday Night Live skit."

The punch line: Gansler, Maryland's current attorney general, is a Democrat.

Washington has been locked for months in a series of partisan battles over the law known as Obamacare, as well as battles within the GOP over how best to oppose the ACA. But it's the state just to the north that has served up the country's first Democrat-on-Democrat brawl over the inept implementation of the law, offering perhaps a first test of Democratic voters' patience with the ACA's technical setbacks.

(Understanding Obamacare: POLITICO's guide to the ACA)

In Maryland, the fight to succeed outgoing Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley has pitted Gansler against state Del. Heather Mizeur and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the frontrunner for the nomination who chairs the state panel on ACA implementation and has long presented himself as the O'Malley administration's point man on Obamacare.

After vowing to make deep-blue Maryland an ACA success story, Brown - and O'Malley - watched with dismay as the website for the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange floundered, allowing fewer than 4,000 Marylanders to enroll in insurance plans by the end of November. The executive director of the state exchange resigned at the start of December.

Now, as O'Malley and his appointees have scrambled to get the state exchange back on track, Gansler has laced into Brown over the performance of the state exchange, arguing that it has "failed miserably" and given "fodder for Republicans" who want to scrap the ACA altogether. Having spent months mocking Brown as an empty suit, Gansler points to the health care mess as a case in point.

"Brown and others were so boastful about Maryland leading the country [but] here we are behind such states as Nevada and Kentucky, let alone California and states like that," Gansler said, emphasizing that while he is a supporter of the president and the ACA: "I think it's certainly appropriate for Democrats to question what has gone on in individual states regarding people's ability to enroll in an exchange."

The former manager of the website was forced resign when she decided to take a vacation in the Cayman Islands during Thanksgiving, leaving behind her cell, her PDA, and generally being unreachable.

O'Malley wants to run for president. But he certainly isn't making much of a case for his candidacy by screwing up the rollout of Obamacare in his state.

Meanwhile, Gansler has shot himself in the foot several times since announcing:

First there was the recording that surfaced in the Washington Post, capturing Gansler dismissing Brown, who is black, for relying on his race as a campaign asset (Gansler's campaign called the recording a dirty trick.) Then there was a Post story on accusations that Gansler ordered his state trooper detail to violate traffic laws (a charge Gansler also chalked up to political skulduggery.) Most embarrassing was an ABC News report featuring photos of Gansler at a raucous high school beach party featuring apparent underage drinking (Gansler said he was only there to tell his son what time their family would leave the area the following morning.)

Now there's a candidate that Maryland Democrats deserve.

While Obamacare will be an issue in the Democratic primary, it's going to aid any Republican who emerges to challenge either Gansler or Brown. Making the election a referendum on Obamacare at the state and national level should help the GOP win in places they are not expected to.

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