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Conservative activists say data shows GOP shouldn't fear shutdown over Obamacare

A prominent conservative group marshaled new polling data on Wednesday to try and convince reluctant Republicans that forcing a government shutdown over “Obamacare” wouldn’t necessarily harm the GOP, or cost the party control of the House of Representatives.

Heritage Action for America – one of the conservative groups leading the charge to pressure Republican lawmakers against voting to continue government spending unless they can defund President Barack Obama’s health care law – said its new poll of likely voters in 10 relatively competitive congressional districts showed that forcing such a shutdown would not be fatal for the GOP in 2014.

The fight over whether to shut down the government in this fall's battle over spending for the next fiscal year and relent somewhat on the implementation of Obamacare reflects the internal strife between the party's conservatives and more pragmatic party establishment.

The poll, which was conducted by Basswood Research from Aug. 7-8, also found that 28 percent of respondents in the 10 districts would blame Republicans for a shutdown over Obamacare, while 22 percent would blame Obama himself, and 19 percent would blame Democrats in Congress. Seventeen percent of respondents would spread blame among all three groups. 

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The poll also found that almost 60 percent of respondents would support a “temporary slowdown in non-essential federal government operations, which still left all essential government services running" in order to extract an agreement from the president to at least slow health care reform’s implementation.

Still, Heritage Action’s survey isn’t meant to reflect broad, nationwide support for a government shutdown. Rather, the numbers are intended to assuage Republican lawmakers who worry that such a hard-line strategy heading into this fall’s fiscal debate would have disastrous consequences for the party.

"Americans – including 57 percent of independents in ten critical congressional districts – favor defunding Obamacare," said Michael Needham, the CEO of Heritage Action. "House Republicans should be much more concerned with the fallout of failing to defund Obamacare than with the imaginary fallout of doing so."

Heritage Action's pollster, Jon Lerner, added: "There is no present evidence that a move to defund Obamacare, and the potential of a partial government shutdown, would harm Republican prospects of holding the House majority. In fact, the very same voters who are critical to keeping the majority – independents in potential competitive districts – hold highly negative views on Obamacare and strongly favor slowdown in implementation or outright repeal of the law."

Wednesday’s numbers also precede a Heritage Action bus tour set to play out in coming weeks in which former Sen. Jim DeMint (the current head of the Heritage Foundation) and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who’s spearheaded the Obamacare-shutdown strategy, would barnstorm key states and congressional districts. 

But a number of high-profile Republicans have also castigated the strategy. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., described the plan as “shenanigans,” and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said last week that he didn’t believe the country “needs or wants a shutdown.”

"Let’s not kid ourselves. We’ll be blamed," GOP heavyweight Karl Rove said of the strategy on Monday. "This assumes that Democrats are going to be scared of a shutdown. They’re not. They want it. They know what happened to us in 1995."

Still, conservatives like Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, have rallied the Republican grassroots behind their strategy. Undergirding their approach is their argument that fighting Obamacare to the fullest extent would become a political winner for Republicans. 

To that end, Heritage Action’s poll found that 51 percent of likely voters in the 10 districts said they would be less likely to re-elect their member of Congress if he or she “voted to continue the full and immediate implementation of the Obama health care plan.”

Similarly, the poll found that 48 percent of respondents said they were more likely to support their representative’s re-election if he or she “did everything he or she could to slow down the implementation of the Obama health care plan, including voting to stop its funding.”

The poll was conducted in 10 House districts, six of which are represented by Republicans, and four of which are represented by Democrats. The lawmakers currently holding those seats are: Reps. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., Aaron Schock, R-Ill., Leonard Lance, R-N.J., Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., Patrick Tiberi, R-Ohio, Greg Walden, R-Ore., John Barrow, D-Ga., Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.

The poll, which was conducted among likely general election voters via live telephone interviews, has a 3.1 percent margin of error.