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Friday, June 29, 2012 - Page updated at 07:30 p.m.

How ruling affects presidential race

By JEFF ZELENY
The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney and other vehement opponents of the health-care law that largely was upheld by the Supreme Court on Thursday are turning to the one remaining avenue of appeal: the ballot box in November.

Taken aback by the court's ruling, Romney and congressional Republicans quickly pledged to press forward with seeking to repeal the law and to hold Democrats accountable, a strategy that conservatives believe will help energize their voters in the fall. But a repeal vote in the House, which Republicans hastily set for July 11, is merely symbolic, with the real debate unfolding over the final four months of the general-election campaign.

The importance of the victory for the White House was difficult to overstate, for now at least. By winning in court, President Obama avoided being branded as a feckless and failed leader who invested too much time and political capital trying to overhaul the nation's health-care system as the economy foundered. An emboldening moment, the ruling provides a fresh boost of energy for Obama's re-election campaign at the end of an otherwise frustrating month.

Still, the triumph for Obama will not necessarily be enduring. The president now faces the challenge of trying to sell the merits of the health-care law again in the court of public opinion, even as Romney and Republicans can campaign on their promise to repeal the measure.

It was telling that Obama used his address from the East Room two hours after the court's ruling to explain the law and its benefits to Americans, something that even some supporters said he had failed to do effectively after the law's passage in 2010.

"Whatever the politics, today's decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this," Obama said. "It should be pretty clear by now that I didn't do this because it was good politics."

Added Obama: "It's time for us to move forward. Now's the time to keep the focus on the most urgent challenge of our time — putting people back to work."

While public sentiment on the Affordable Care Act has been nearly frozen in place since the president signed the bill, the Supreme Court ruling could stir a shift in public opinion among independent voters, give Obama a second shot at convincing voters that it is prudent approach to a pressing problem, and create something of a permission structure for voters to see the law in a different light.

The burden is on Romney and other Republicans to prevent this and to keep the anger alive among conservatives and party activists.

"What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day as president of the United States," said Romney, speaking with the Capitol as a backdrop. "I will act to repeal Obamacare."

The ruling has the potential to re-energize the tea-party movement — largely born out of opposition to the health-care law and the expansion of government — and provide new political power to Romney's pledge to repeal the law if he wins the election.

"It'll be all hands on deck for the tea-party grass roots to elect a president and Congress who will repeal the law despite the court's ruling," said Dean Clancy, vice president for health policy at Freedom Works, a group that helps support tea-party efforts.

The ruling also could give liberals the false assurance that the presidential election is no longer steeped in urgency.

"Today's ruling crystallizes all that's at stake in November's election," said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, chairman of the Republican Governors Association. "The only way to stop Barack Obama's budget-busting health-care takeover is by electing a new president."

But there are warning signs for Republicans, too, who face the risk of alienating independent voters who may not have the appetite for a reprise of the bitter fight over health care. Republican leaders are eager to keep the conversation of the campaign focused on the economy, which is what Romney highlighted as he responded to the court ruling. He called the health care an expansion of government that raises taxes on Americans.

"This is time for the American people to make a choice," Romney said. "Our mission is clear: If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we must replace President Obama."

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