* Campaign: Yes, Obama cares
* Coopts term as Supreme Court hears arguments
By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON, March 26 If you can't beat 'em, join
President Barack Obama's campaign has embraced the term
"Obamacare," seeking to turn the negative name Republicans
assigned to his healthcare reform effort into a positive
branding tool just as the Supreme Court studies the law's
"Happy birthday, Obamacare," Jim Messina, the president's
campaign manager, wrote in an email to supporters last week to
note the anniversary of the reform becoming law.
"If you're tired of the other side throwing around that word
like it's an insult, then join me in sending a message that
we're proud of it," he wrote.
David Axelrod, the president's top campaign strategist, was
"Hell yeah, I like Obamacare," he said in an email to Obama
supporters, encouraging them to express the same sentiment by
clicking on a link to a campaign website and typing in their
email address and zip code.
It was not always this way.
The White House has referred studiously to Obama's signature
legislative accomplishment as the "Affordable Healthcare Act"
for most of the two years since it passed.
Meanwhile, Republicans coined "Obamacare" to tie the
president to the law, which polls show is still very unpopular
with many Americans.
With the Supreme Court starting three days of arguments on
Monday in a process that will determine the 2010 law's fate,
Obama's advisers sought to shift from defense to offense in
influencing public perception of the law.
"They're calling the bluff," said Allen Adamson, a brand
expert at Landor Associates.
"For the people who like it, they're going to instantly
associate it more directly with Obama. And for the people who
don't like it, (it's) not going to make a lot of difference."
Republicans were skeptical the shift in strategy would work.
"If Obama truly wanted to own Obamacare they would have done
it long ago and not just when it became painfully obvious he's
losing the battle," said Kirsten Kukowski, spokeswoman for the
Republican National Committee.
"Republicans are clearly going to use Obamacare against the
president as a law that is unpopular, unconstitutional, will
raise taxes, will cost more than we were promised and won't do
anything about healthcare costs."
Republican presidential candidates regularly use the term on
the campaign trail to tarnish the president.
Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania,
has tied it to a similar law championed by Mitt Romney, the
front-runner for the Republican nomination who introduced
healthcare reform in Massachusetts when he was governor there.
"Romneycare is a government-run healthcare program,"
Santorum said during a recent speech in San Antonio. "It's the
template for Obamacare."
The Obama campaign acknowledges its shift on the word.
"Republicans have spent millions trying to make Obamacare a
negative term," said campaign spokeswoman Kara Carscaden. "Our
supporters have taken the word back and are ready to defend
health reform against the Republicans' attempts to end it."
T-shirts that say "I like Obamacare" are available on the
campaign's website for $35.
Buttons with the same message go for $5.
The White House, brushing away its fondness for proper
names, has also taken on the Obamacare brand.
"One thing I'm confident of is, by the end of this decade,
we're going to be very glad the Republicans termed this
Obamacare, because when the reality of health care is in place,
it's going to be nothing like the kind of fear-mongering that
was done," said David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser, on
ABC's "This Week" program on Sunday.
And Obama himself, not for the first time, seemed to embrace
the term at a recent fundraiser, saying it showed that he cared.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)