JUPITER, Florida — Beverly Hires, a former nurse running for Congress here in one of the nation’s rare competitive House races, ticks off her problems with the federal health care law: higher premiums, cancelled policies and employers cutting full-time jobs.

“The Affordable Care Act is not making insurance more affordable,” she said in an interview, citing many of the same criticisms as her five GOP opponents in the Aug. 26 primary, who are vying for the chance to oust first-term Democrat Rep. Patrick Murphy. 

Hires’ messaging on Obamacare in this South Florida district targeted by the GOP tracks a pattern around the country as Republican candidates follow a focus-group tested script recommended by pollsters.

“The messages that work best are succinct, clear statements about the effects of Obamacare on consumers directly,” by increasing costs, taxes and taking away jobs, said Whit Ayres, president of North Star Opinion Research, a Republican polling group that’s surveyed likely voters to determine the best way to attack Obamacare.

Heading into the first congressional election since millions of Americans gained coverage under the health law, many Republican candidates are taking a more nuanced approach to how they criticize the law.  Rather than just calling for repeal, they are following Ayres’ recommendations to focus on arguments about how the law is hurting consumers, government budgets or the economy.

And while political ads on television are still common, the number of new ads about the law has declined since spring when the administration rebounded from the troubled launch of healthcare.gov, said Elizabeth Wilner, senior vice president for Kantar Media Intelligence in New York, a nonpartisan group that tracks political advertising.

“Obamacare is no longer front and center in the way it was earlier this year and late last year,” she said. “It remains an issue, but it’s no longer the only one.”

She cited other frequently mentioned topics such as government spending and the economy.

‘Playing To The Base’

While most GOP candidates continue talking about the health care law to rally the base, attacking it is no longer seen as winning over new voters since most people have made up their minds about it, say political analysts. 

“Opposing Obamacare is a reinforcing issue that helps re-energize their base of voters but it does not move a lot of new voters to them,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics & Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

Despite a shift in how they talk about the law, there’s no sign GOP candidates are going soft on it, analysts say.

“Remember, this is a midterm with low turnout,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Candidates on both sides are playing to their base and hoping for a large boost from them in fundraising and votes. You don't accomplish that by watering down the message.”

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