WASHINGTON -- As the battle over the healthcare law grinds on Republicans no closer to victory than when they forced the government shutdown a different fight was rising on a recent Saturday from inside Sharkeys, a bar near the campus of Virginia Tech, 260 miles away.
Lured by free beer, gift cards and the chance to win an iPad, 100 students heard a pitch from the young staffers of a group named Generation Opportunity: Obamacare is a bad deal, and you should opt out.
With enrollment in the insurance marketplaces under way, and tens of millions of taxpayer dollars being spent on a public-awareness campaign, critics are aiming a provocative counter-effort at a critical population: millennials, age 18 to 29, who may not feel the need or have the money for insurance.
Because if too few young, healthy people sign up, Obamacare will be denied the financial blood to support older, more needy participants. So the race is on for the attention of 2.7 million people deemed necessary to enroll in the first year for Obamacare to be successful.
Generation Opportunity, which formed in 2011 and gets funding in part from the conservative Koch brothers, is about to embark on a tour of 20 college towns nationally, including a Nov. 9 stop at the University of Miami. The pitch is that you shouldnt feel compelled by the government to buy insurance, and that it may be cheaper outside the marketplaces.
A blueprint for an upcoming tailgate calls for games such as beer pong and cornhole, free Taco Bell and beer. Pictures of people signing petitions to opt out would be sent over Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
The group, and more recognizable conservative organizations such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, show how the fight has shifted from Congress to the grassroots. Young people are among the laws most ardent supporters, but at the same time many are unaware of the benefits, providing an opening for critics.
Were happy to watch the law crumble under its own weight by young people making good decisions, said Evan Feinberg, Generation Opportunitys 29-year-old president. This is a creepy law.
The media campaign
Creepy put this group on the map.
Last month, Generation Opportunity launched two videos featuring Creepy Uncle Sam, who popped up between a young womans legs during a gynecological exam and asked a young man to roll over as he pulled on a surgical glove. The message: The government is messing with your healthcare.
Generation Opportunity, which has an office in Arlington, Va., and a staff of 30 full-timers, including a field director in Florida, never paid to put the videos on television. But they went viral across YouTube and Facebook, getting 3.5 million unique views in the first week, attracting widespread TV news coverage and a response from President Barack Obama.
It was a really fun moment for me to be out at a bar in Washington and see people watching Creepy Uncle Sam, laughing about it, sharing it with their friends, said Feinberg, a former Republican aide on Capitol Hill and tea party candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania.
On Tuesday, he was sitting at the bar in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, buzzing with healthcare statistics and polished talking points. As Feinberg ordered an Oktoberfest beer, the waiter asked for his ID and that of the groups 24-year-old communications director, David Pasch, who delighted in the message the scene conveyed.