In the states that will determine control of the Senate, the health law is falling apart.

Former Sen. Russ Feingold in Milwaukee, Jan. 26.
Former Sen. Russ Feingold in Milwaukee, Jan. 26. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

“You bet I voted for that bill. I’m proud I did it!” yelled Russ Feingoldat a Wisconsin campaign stop in 2010. That pride—in ObamaCare—lost the three-term Democratic senator his job. Now his party’s ownership of the health-care law may once again decide the Senate.

ObamaCare is roaring back as a political liability to Democrats in a way not seen since that 2010 wave election. Right in time for this fall’s presidential contest, insurers are bailing out of the government system, leaving millions of voters with dwindling options and skyrocketing premiums. ObamaCare was always destined to crack up, but there is something notable that it comes precisely as so much control of Washington is up for grabs.

Especially since the health law is playing an outsize role in the states that will matter most for which party controls the Senate. At least three crucial elections feature Democrats who provided the final Senate votes to make ObamaCare the law of the land. Several other high-profile races are playing out in states where the health law has wreaked particular damage.

Start with Wisconsin, where Mr. Feingold is running to regain his old seat. Once again he is lugging along his 2010 vote for the law, which is expected to impose rate increases of as much as 31% on Wisconsinites in 2017. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, the businessman who defeated Mr. Feingold six years ago, is already reprising his 2010 hammering of ObamaCare. He has accused his opponent of having a “blasé attitude” about the law’s crushing effects, perhaps referring to a Politico interview last year in which Mr. Feingold said he thought ObamaCare, over time, would work out, and “that’s exactly what’s happened.”

In Indiana, Republican Rep. Todd Young is running for the Senate against another Democrat hoping for a comeback. Former Sen. Evan Bayh voted for ObamaCare in 2010, though when it proved unpopular he chose to retire rather than face voters. Now that his replacement, Republican Sen. Dan Coats, is stepping down, Mr. Bayh wants his seat back.

GOP groups are already up with ads reminding voters of his role in passing ObamaCare. Mr. Young, meanwhile, touts a bill he wrote to delay the individual mandate, as well as his support for ObamaCare alternatives, some of which reflect proposals in Speaker Paul Ryan’s “Better Way” agenda. Coming rate increases in Indiana? Up to 29%.

Then there’s Colorado’s Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, also a deciding vote for ObamaCare. Republican challenger Darryl Glenn is making an issue out of last year’s collapse of Colorado HealthOP, the state-run ObamaCare co-op. Its failure left 80,000 Coloradans without coverage and state taxpayers with a potential bill of $40 million. Mr. Bennet is in a particularly tough spot, trying to navigate between voters’ generalized outrage over ObamaCare and the pressure from his left to get behind a universal health-care measure that’s on the Colorado ballot this fall. (He hasn’t, so far.)

The Democrats in these races appear to be comfortably ahead. Then again, no real polling has been done on them since the ObamaCare meltdown in August. And the fall ad blitz is only about to commence. Those TV spots could make the difference in tight races, where competitors are scrambling within the margin of error.

ObamaCare will play in other states, too. Arizona is experiencing one of the biggest exchange upheavals; Pinal County doesn’t have a single ObamaCare insurer. Sen. John McCain is using this to beat on Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who has only doubled down on her support for the law. North Carolina is near to having only one ObamaCare insurer. Sen. Richard Burr is touting a bill he introduced with a handful of GOP senators to provide consumers some financial relief. Similar dynamics are playing out in New Hampshire, Missouri and Ohio.

The tricky part for many of these Republicans is tailoring their ObamaCare message. In any other election, with a more widely loved GOP presidential nominee, they would be openly tying themselves to the top of the ticket and promising ObamaCare repeal. But given the risks Donald Trump holds for Republicans in more moderate states, many candidates are instead having to adopt a check-and-balance argument, calling for Republican control of the Senate to stop Hillary Clinton from further harming the health-care system.

This argument is easier now that Mrs. Clinton and other Democrats are claiming that the fix to ObamaCare is a new, costly “public option” (government-run care). Florida’s Democratic Senate candidate, Rep. Patrick Murphy, embraced that position on the eve of this week’s primary (which he won), inspiring a pile-on from Sen. Marco Rubio and conservative grass-roots groups like Americans for Prosperity. Only Mr. Murphy “could read the latest devastating headlines about the failure of ObamaCare and declare it a success that should be expanded,” railed a Rubio spokesman.

In what is otherwise a confused election, the failure of ObamaCare is a clear story line for the GOP. The Russ Feingolds of the world own this mess. Republicans have a chance to remind the nation of the perils of putting them back in charge.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/make-democrats-own-obamacare-1472769524?mod=djemMER

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