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January 21, 2014 2:55 PM The Emerging “Mend Don’t End” Red State Dem Line on Obamacare

By Ed Kilgore

Greg Sargent has been following an important emerging political development in red and purple states: Democrats who are reluctant to embrace the Affordable Care Act are still blasting Republicans for trying to repeal it rather than fix it. West Virginia is the latest example:

As I noted earlier today, the New York Times has a terrific piece on the “surge in sign-ups” that is happening in West Virginia, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. The Times reports that some 75,000 people have now enrolled in Medicaid (which the Dem governor expanded), a level of demand that has “surprised officials….”
Which raises a question: how would the GOP Senate candidate in West Virginia, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, respond if asked directly if she would take insurance away from all these people?
Capito, of course, is a gung-ho supporter of Obamacare repeal. But she has hedged on the Medicaid expansion itself. In December, she reportedly “declined to second-guess the decision,” to expand Medicaid, asserting: “We are where we are now, and we have to figure out how to go forward.” But repeal would presumably roll back the Medicaid expansion, too. Does Capito support that?
Obamacare is of course deeply unpopular in red states, and embracing repeal, generally at least, may prove a winner. Capito is favored. But with enrollment mounting, is there a point at which the question of what repeal would actually mean to all the people who have gained coverage becomes a hard one for Republicans to answer?
The Dem candidate for Senate, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, has criticized Obamacare, arguing that premiums are too high and choice too limited. She has not said whether she would have voted for it, claiming she’d have brought “more West Virginia values” to the debate over passage.
But Tennant does not support repeal, and she supports the Medicaid expansion….
This is in keeping with how other red state Dems are handling the law. They are not embracing Obamcare. But they oppose repeal, and they are standing behind the general goal of expanding coverage to those who can’t afford it. This is true of Michelle Nunn in Georgia (where 57 percent support the Medicaid expansion) and Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky, who wants the law fixed and supports making coverage available to hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians, rather than throwing “the baby out with the bathwater.”

Polling has consistently shown much lower numbers for “repealing” Obamacare than for opposing it. This gap should only increase if the law’s implementation grows smoother (as it has) and more Americans actually gain health insurance which repeal would take away.

More immediately for Republicans, the “mend don’t end” counterattack from Democrats means there is a decided risk involved in the GOP’s monomaniacal focus on Obamacare this midterm election cycle. And the more Democrats exploit that risk, the less they will be inclined to run for the hills or change the subject when it comes up. That’s a virtuous cycle for Obamacare, even if its proponents don’t sound too bullish about the law itself.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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