[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/08/art.jcornyn.gi.jpg caption ="John Cornyn said Monday that health care will be the ‘number one issue that the election is won or lost on in November.’"]Washington (CNN) - The Democratic push for health care reform this year will translate into significant GOP gains at the ballot box regardless of whether or not a bill actually passes, according to the Republican senator overseeing his party's efforts to retake the chamber in November.
"Democrats think by passing the bill they'll be able to get it behind them and change the subject to something else like jobs," said Texas Sen. John Cornyn at a news briefing Monday. "But this will do the opposite. This will make sure that health care is the number one issue that the election is won or lost on in November."
Cornyn is the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP's campaign arm.
"There's two reasons why the voters don't like the bill," he said. "One is that they're not convinced that it will do as the president said, bring down the costs. Number two, the way the Senate bill was constructed, behind close doors with no transparency and with all of these sweetheart deals, has rendered it fairly toxic."
Cornyn cited the Democratic handling of the health care issue as a top reason why Republicans are running strong races for eight seats currently held by Democrats in Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania.
"It's pretty clear to me that the president and Democrats have learned nothing from what happened in Massachusetts," said Cornyn in reference to the January special election in which Republican Scott Brown won the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat in the heavily Democratic state.
Coryn attributed that victory to "the arrogance that many across the country feel is being exercised here in Washington of elites that will not listen to what voters want and what voters are saying but are determined to jam it down their throats whether they like it or not."
He added, "I think it puts us in a very good position come November 2010."
Cornyn also said that the conservative Tea Party movement could be a positive force for the party in the mid-terms if its concerns are addressed properly.
"I think it's important that their energy and enthusiasm be channeled into the primary process, and then ultimately it's about nominating the strongest candidate to run against the Democrat in November," he said. "I think third-party races are not good."
One race where Cornyn expressed relatively tepid support for the NRSC-endorsed candidate was in Florida, where Gov. Charlie Crist is fighting an increasingly bruising primary fight with conservative former state House Speaker Marco Rubio.
Cornyn described the process of how he and the NRSC came to recruit and endorse Crist early last year when the governor was still the prohibitive front-runner.
"I looked around to see who was the most popular Republican in the state and somebody who was a good fundraiser, and that was Charlie Crist. And selfishly, given the limited resources we have and the national scope of our responsibilities here, I didn't want to have to spend any money in Florida if we didn't have to, so Charlie Crist seemed like the ideal candidate," said Cornyn.
Crist continued: "This had nothing to do with Marco Rubio, who I subsequently met and have a lot of respect for. So I think our posture here is I endorsed Gov. Crist early on, really before this became a real contest. I'm not going to do anything to change that, I think I'm honor-bound to leave it as it is. But it doesn't mean we're going to be spending any money in the primary. It doesn't mean we're going to be saying anything bad about Marco Rubio. To the contrary, I think Marco Rubio, if he wins the nomination, will beat [possible Democratic nominee] Kendrick Meek."