Washington (CNN) - A top aide to Mitt Romney is pushing back against Democrats attempts to highlight Tuesday's fifth anniversary of the signing by the former Massachusetts governor of a universal health care law in the Bay state.
The measure, which has been criticized by some fellow Republicans, could hurt Romney with GOP primary and caucus voters if he decides, as expected, to make another run for the White House.
Massachusetts Democrats are holding a party Tuesday to mark the occasion, including a "Thank You Mitt Romney" cake. And next door in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary in the race for the White House, Democratic party officials are urging supporters to tweet Romney to thank him for standing "shoulder-to-shoulder with Senator Kennedy to sign Massachusetts' historic health care reform law."
But senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom tells CNN that "somehow I'm not surprised that Democrats are sitting around eating cake while 14 million unemployed Americans are struggling to put food on their table."
On April 12, 2006, the then Republican governor in a state dominated by Democrats, signed into law a health care plan that would insure almost every resident of Massachusetts. At the time, it was praised by supporters of health care reform as a landmark achievement for Romney. The lynchpin of the law was an insurance mandate that required the people of Massachusetts to get health insurance.
Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who is expected to make a run for the GOP presidential nomination, has been critical of the Massachusetts law, as has former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who ran for the White House in 2008 and may make another bid for the Republican nomination in 2012.
Romney addressed his record in a March speech, explaining the law was a "state plan intended to address problems that were in many ways unique to Massachusetts."
"Our experiment wasn't perfect. Some things worked. Some didn't. And some things I'd change," Romney said. "One thing I would never do is to usurp the constitutional power of states with a one-size-fits-all federal takeover."
And last year Romney supported conservative candidates who wanted to repeal the president's health care reform law.
But in an interview with CNN in 2009, as Washington was debating President Barack Obama's health care proposal, Romney said portions of the Massachusetts law could serve as a model for the country.
"I think there are a number of features in the Massachusetts plan that could inform Washington on ways to improve health care for all Americans," Romney told CNN at the time. "The fact that we were able to get people insured without a government option is a model I think they can learn from."
Democrats, including President Obama himself, have recently praised Romney's 2006 law for setting the stage for health care reform on the national stage.
"In fact, I agree with Mitt Romney, who recently said he's proud of what he accomplished on health care in Massachusetts and supports giving states the power to determine their own health care solutions," Obama said earlier this year.
The strategy here appears to be two-fold: Hurt Romney in the battle for the GOP nomination by tying him to the national health care reform law, which is despised by many Republicans. Many Tea Party movement activists and other conservatives view the national law's insurance mandate as unconstitutional. If Romney wins the nomination, Democrats hope comparisons of the national health care law to what Romney did in Massachusetts will soften opposition by independents and moderate Republicans to the president's health care measure.
The insurance mandate in "Romneycare" wasn't a major liability in the governor's first presidential run in 2008 because Obama's health care law wasn't born yet.
–Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @psteinhausercnn