Hitting Mitch McConnell over health care in Kentucky

In yesterday’s speech, President Obama gave a shout-out to Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, citing his tireless efforts to expand Obamacare coverage to his own constituents in a deep red state. As enrollment mounts, Mitch McConnell has refused to directly answer questions about Kentuckians befitting from the law.

Counter-intuitively, some Kentucky Dems believe McConnell will ultimately face a reckoning on this issue. There is no more experienced McConnell watcher and antagonist then Dem Rep. John Yarmuth, so when he says McConnell is cornered, it’s worth listening.

“Who knows how many hundreds of thousands will eventually have coverage who didn’t before — and Mitch would take it away from them,” Yarmuth, of the Third District in Louisville, told me. “I think it opens up some pretty strong vulnerabilities.”

McConnell’s ads feature an energy worker who benefitted from his efforts to bring him health care, but Yarmuth says Dems can counter: what about all those who’d lose coverage if Obamacare were repealed?

“I would suggest Alison attack Mitch for wanting to take health coverage away when he is boasting about having gotten health care to one guy,” Yarmuth said. (Alison Lundergan Grimes has been cautious on the ACA, standing up for its expansion of coverage but generally avoiding the topic.)

I pointed out polls show Obamacare is very unpopular in Kentucky. “Clearly when you put the Obamacare tag on it, there isn’t a great response,” Yarmuth replied. He pointed out Grimes never voted for the law, adding: ”Alison can point to the need for it to be improved and then talk about how Mitch only wants to repeal it, which an overwhelming amount of Kentuckians don’t want to do…in 29 years, Kentucky is still basically near the bottom of all the states in health status.”

A new poll from Public Policy Polling finds the McConnell-Grimes matchup a dead heat, and Yarmuth suggests McConnell’s Tea Party opponent, Matt Bevin, might be easier to beat than the Senator himself.

“You can make a case that Mitch is easier to beat than Bevin,” Yarmuth said. “People are tired of him. They see him as the embodiment of government dysfunction. He probably will survive the primary. But he’s going to alienate a number of voters in the primary — it’s going to be nasty — who then will not come out.”

Asked how McConnell beats Grimes, he said: “It would be because Mitch defines her in such a way that people hold their noses and vote for him. If she underperforms in Louisville and Lexington, she’ll have a tough time.”

Asked how Grimes beats McConnell, he said: “She comes out of my district with a 60,000 vote margin. She wins her area, the sixth Congressional district [in Lexington], by 30,000 or 40,000 and holds down the margin elsewhere. The idea he’ll just destroy her in eastern Kentucky is not going to happen.”

Eastern Kentucky is coal country, and it votes Republican, but Grimes has distanced herself from Obama on coal. There are a lot of Democrats in the region, and there is also deep poverty. The PPP poll shows overwhelming support for a minimum wage hike, which Grimes is campaigning on, along with other pocketbook issues. In this context, Yarmuth articulated the message against the five-term Senator this way:

“Are you better off than you were 29 years ago?”

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