WASHINGTON - The outlook for the president's health-care overhaul suddenly appears brighter, and some Democrats are saying it's time for the party to openly embrace the law that Republicans consider their best campaign weapon.
Activists in one Senate race are doing just that. Other Democratic candidates, however, remain wary, unsure that a modest dose of good news will be enough to offset countless TV ads denouncing Obamacare.
Those worries are well founded, say Republicans who shrug off the developments Democrats tout.
President Obama recently announced that first-year sign-ups for subsidized private health insurance topped seven million, exceeding expectations. And the Congressional Budget Office - the government's fiscal scorekeeper - said it expects only a minimal increase in customers' costs for 2015. Over the next decade, CBO said the new law will cost taxpayers $100 billion less than previously estimated.
Republicans already were pushing their luck by vowing to "repeal and replace" the health-care law without having a viable replacement in mind, says Thomas Mills, a Democratic consultant and blogger in North Carolina. Now, he says, Democrats have even more reasons to rise from their defensive crouch on this topic.
"Democrats need to start making the case for Obamacare," Mills says. "They all voted for it, they all own it, so they can't get away from it. So they'd better start defending it."
Even some professionals who have criticized the health-care law say the political climate has changed.
"I think Democrats have the ability to steal the health care issue back from Republicans," said health-care industry consultant Bob Laszewski. "The Democratic Party can become the party of fixing Obamacare."
In truth, some Democratic lawmakers often talk of "fixing" the 2010 health-care law. But it's usually in response to critics, or in a manner meant to show their willingness to challenge Obama.
For instance, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who faces a tough reelection bid, used her first TV ad of the campaign to highlight her demand that Obama let people keep insurance policies they like.
But Landrieu and other hard-pressed Democrats have not gone as far as a pro-Democratic group in Alaska that is unabashedly highlighting the health law's strongest points.
The independent group Put Alaska First is airing a TV ad that praises Democratic Sen. Mark Begich for helping people obtain insurance even if they have "preexisting conditions," such as cancer. The ad doesn't mention Obama or his health-care law by name, but it focuses on one of the law's most popular features.
Other Democrats should consider such tactics, said political consultant David DiMartino.