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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Who Supports Obamacare in Georgia Race?

Both candidates seeking the Republican nomination in a Georgia House race have repeatedly called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But you wouldn’t know it from the competing ads from Bob Johnson and Buddy Carter, in which each tries to paint the other as a closet fan of “Obamacare.”

Both ads use deceptive tactics to make their case.

  • An ad from the Johnson campaign claims “Carter said Obamacare was ‘not so bad.’ ” That’s a cherry-picked quote. Carter said that “some of the things that have happened so far are not so bad,” but he immediately added that “the worst part is yet to come.” And he has repeatedly called for repeal of the law.
  • A Carter ad, meanwhile, blasts Johnson for “membership in and endorsement from groups that support Obamacare.” The ad is referring to Johnson’s membership in the American Medical Association, which has been generally supportive of the Affordable Care Act. Johnson, a surgeon, has made clear he disagrees with the AMA on that issue.

Carter and Johnson were the top vote-getters among a field of six in Georgia’s 1st Congressional District Republican primary on May 20, with Carter getting 36 percent of the vote and Johnson 23 percent. The two will now face each other in a primary runoff election on July 22.

It’s not surprising that the candidates might accuse each other of being soft on the health care law. According to a poll from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last September, 89 percent of Republicans in the state hold an unfavorable opinion of the law. But both ads mislead in their attempts to create daylight between the candidates on this issue.

The Johnson Ad

An ad from the Johnson campaign labels Carter a “professional politician” and a “liberal.” According to the ad’s narrator, “Carter said Obamacare was ‘not so bad.’ ”

The quote comes from a speech Carter gave announcing his candidacy for the House. But it is lifted out of context.

Here’s the fuller context of Carter’s comments:

Carter, March 13, 2013: Another area that is of great concern to me, and of which I have just a little bit of experience, is health care. You know, we’re at a crossroads in our country today. We’re about to undertake Obamacare. So far it started, and some of the things that have happened so far are not so bad. But the worst part is yet to come. We are blessed in the United States with the best health care system in the world. And I want to make sure we keep that. Now, there are going to be drastic changes that take place with Obamacare. As a health care professional and a leader in health care, we need someone with experience, someone with health care experience, in Washington, D.C., to make sure that our health care system in the state of Georgia remains the very best in all the world, and I will commit to you I will make certain that happens.

Carter, a pharmacist and Georgia state senator, has repeatedly called for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, as his campaign website makes clear.

Carter campaign website: Obamacare became law of the land because too many conservative politicians remained quiet and chose to sit on the sidelines rather than fight President Obama.

That’s not Buddy Carter’s style.

As a Georgia legislator and as a pharmacist who treats thousands of Coastal Georgians as patients annually, Buddy is a strong supporter of repealing Obamacare and bringing real conservative reform with market-driven solutions to our health care system.

In an undated post on his campaign website titled “Stopping the Train Wreck That Is Obamacare,” Carter calls the law a “job-killing, budget-busting disaster.”

Johnson claims on his campaign website that Carter “left the door open to ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion in Georgia.” That claim is followed by this quote from a Carter op-ed in the Savannah Morning News on July 10, 2012.

Carter, July 10, 2012: Why shouldn’t we take advantage of these federal funds that are available? After all, Georgians pay federal taxes and that’s just as much our money as anybody’s. Why should we sit back and watch New Jersey and other states expand their Medicaid rolls with our federal tax dollars while we do nothing?

…Wow, money for the taking. How can we turn that down?

That, too, is lifted grossly out of context. Carter makes clear that those are the views of “others” with whom he disagrees. The sentence immediately preceding the out-of-context excerpt on Johnson’s website says, “While many of us would agree that we should say no, others bring up a different view.” In the op-ed, Carter calls federal support for Medicaid expansion “cheese in the trap” and argues against Medicaid expansion as too expensive for the state.

In fact, Carter sponsored SB 334,”The Georgia Health Care Freedom and ACA Noncompliance Act,” which prohibits state and local governments “from engaging in an activity that aids any agency in the enforcement of provisions of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.” Specifically, it prevents the state and local governments from “advocating for the expansion of Medicaid coverage in Georgia” and from “establishing or operating a health care exchange or navigator program, or accepting any money to operate an exchange.” Its provisions were folded into another bill and ultimately became law.

The Carter Ad

Carter, meanwhile, went on air with an ad that mimics a prescription drug ad. “Thinking about trying Bob Johnson?” the narrator asks amid soothing piano music. “Know the risks. Common side effects of Bob Johnson include, membership in and endorsement from groups that support Obamacare.”

The Carter campaign told us that refers to Johnson’s membership in the American Medical Association. Independently, there are two accuracies in the claim. First, the AMA has supported the Affordable Care Act and has opposed its repeal. And second, Johnson, a surgeon who specializes in head and neck cancer surgery, is a member of the AMA. And while the AMA itself does not endorse political candidates, the AMA’s political arm, AMPAC, has donated $10,000 to Johnson’s campaign.

But the implication that since Johnson is a member of the AMA, and the AMA supports the Affordable Care Act, therefore Johnson must support Obamacare is simply false. As AMA President Ardis Hoven said in an interview on C-SPAN in July 2013, among members of the AMA, “[s]ome supported, some did not support it.”

Johnson, who is endorsed by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, has called for a full repeal of “destructive” Obamacare, and he once went on a “Repeal and Replace ObamaCare Tour.”

The Carter campaign also cites Johnson’s support from other medical groups and their political arms — such as the Medical Association of Georgia, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Academy of Neurology, and American Academy of Dermatology Association, all of which the campaign says either support the Affordable Care Act or its expansion of Medicaid. But none of those associations changes the fact that Johnson has been an outspoken opponent of the Affordable Care Act.

For the record, both candidates in the July 22 runoff in the Democratic primary for Georgia’s 1st District — Amy Tavio and Brian Reesedo generally support the Affordable Care Act and oppose its repeal.

— Robert Farley