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As Obama signs history, healthcare redraws 2010 map. Unions, tea party activists sharpen knives

March 23, 2010 |  8:53 am

President Obama signs health care reform bill March 23, 2010 with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Vice President Biden, Vicki Kennedy, widow of Edward Kennedy and Marcelas Owens of Seattle looking on by AP
 
At the White House, the signing ceremony looked like a victory party as President Obama delivered on the signature promise of his campaign for change. As he signed the historic healthcare bill, Obama was flanked by Vicki Kennedy, widow of the late Edward Kennedy, who had called this the cause of his lifetime, and by ordinary Americans who wrote to him or campaigned with him on the issue.

But the long, torturous slog through Congress left the field littered with wounded.

Now, some vultures are circling for the kill.

On the left, unions are furious with Democrats who enjoy labor backing and still voted against the bill. Of the 34 Democrats who voted against the bill, more than half a dozen have enjoyed strong labor support. Now, unions are recruiting third-party candidates to run against Democrats Mike Arcuri and Mike McMahon in New York and looking at other possible contests against New Jersey's John Adler, Illinois' Dan Lipinski, Massachusetts' Stephen Lynch and Ohio's Zack Space.

"Everyone who voted against passing health insurance reform ... will have to explain to voters why they stood up with the insurance industry," said Service Employees International Union spokeswoman Lori Lodes.

On the right, tea party activists are rallying conservatives for a repeal drive against "the socialist healthcare vote." And they are gearing up for November -- registering new voters, launching political action committees, running attack ads against Democratic incumbents who said yes to change.

"They chose not to listen to what the people want," said Debbie Dooley, co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party. "We, the people, will have our say in November." Gina Loudon, a founder of the St. Louis Tea Party, added that she has been deluged with calls from folks who wanted to get involved. "This has absolutely awoken a giant," she said.

High on the target list for many conservatives is Michigan's Bart Stupak, who provided the winning margin of victory with his band of antiabortion colleagues who settled for an executive order pledging that no federal funds would be used for abortion.

Conservatives may have the easier hand. They will be lobbing money and muscle against a candidate while backing an opponent. For liberals, the challenge is to oppose fellow Democrats while finding third-party alternatives.

Mindful of the terrible price paid by others who did support the bill at great political risk, they are planning rallies for "yes"-voting lawmakers whose districts voted for Republican John McCain. "First thing we want to do is take the time to thank those who took the tough vote," the AFL-CIO's Karen Ackerman told the Hill. "This is not a one-time appreciation rally. We will let them know that we stand with them."

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: President Obama signs the healthcare reform bill on March 23, 2010, with Marcelas Owens of Seattle (foreground left), Vice President Biden, Vicki Kennedy (just to the right of Biden), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (in brown) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (to right of Pelosi). Credit: Associated Press

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