Republicans claim Supreme Court ruling will boost downballot races as vulnerable Dems hold firm

The  Supreme Court's decision Thursday to uphold the individual mandate in the president's health care law solidified health care as the cornerstone for President Obama's 2012 campaign.

But it remains a tricky issue for Democrats running for Senate in conservative and competitive states.

Already facing attacks over their ties to and alleged support for "Obamacare," "red" state Democrats have been straddling a careful line on the president's health care law, wary its unpopularity and that of the president would drag down their campaigns. Now, with the Obama campaign and his staunchest supporters preparing to use this ruling as the hallmark of his first term in office, Democrats will likely face increased attacks from Republicans who believe the ruling will ignite their base.

"While we would have preferred to see Obamacare struck down, this decision will drive Republican voter intensity sky-high," Steven Law, president and CEO of American Crossroads said in a statement Thursday. "The last time Obamacare was litigated in a general election, Republicans picked up an historic number of seats in the U.S. House and made big gains in the U.S. Senate."

American Crossroads is one of two major super PACs connected to Karl Rove which each ran health care-based attack ads in 2010. The GOP netted six Senate seats that fall.

In an email to press Thursday morning, the National Republican Senatorial Committee highlighted political expert Stu Rothenberg, who wrote that the decision "enhances the Republicans' political position heading to November" in reference to party strategy overall.

But Democrats strongly disagree, arguing that the decision doesn't change the landscape for Senate races.

"This desperate spin game from Republicans is a shameless attempt at distraction from more important issues," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Canter told Yahoo News, calling the economy, the middle class, and Republican efforts to privatize Medicare as the most pivotal issues. Canter conceded that there are Democrats who believed prior to the ruling that portions of the health care law should be changed. "Democratic candidates have and will continue to make their own proposals to do just that," Canter wrote in a follow-up email.

"I do expect that today's decision will have a positive impact on our campaigns around the country, motivating our supporters, and giving our candidates a chance to talk about many of the specifics of this bill--like insuring coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions and expanding coverage for our country's veterans," Canter wrote.

Democrats running for Senate in competitive states on Thursday stuck to their positions, with many mentioning potential improvements upon the law.

"The Affordable Care Act is an important first step in curbing discriminatory insurance company practices and increasing access to health care, but more needs to be done to bring down costs," Tim Kaine, the Democratic nominee for the Virginia Senate race, opened a statement released Thursday. "Our government, businesses, and citizens cannot continue to spend more than any other nation on health care while getting second-rate results. As Senator, I am committed to working with all stakeholders to find additional improvements to the Affordable Care Act that give all Americans affordable access to high quality services."

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