Will Obamacare deliver Republicans the Senate in elections seven months away, or will the health law recede as an issue, while other factors (candidates, the economy, the terrible map for Dems) come to the fore?

Today’s new Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll — the gold standard in health care polling — offers clues as to why the latter may be more likely. Key findings:

Views of the ACA remain unfavorable, but the gap is narrowing. The new poll finds that in March, 38 percent viewed the law favorably, versus 46 percent who saw it unfavorably. That’s a substantial narrowing from the 34-50 spread during the dark days of January, and a return almost to where opinion was in September (39-43), before the rollout disaster began.

– Support for repeal continues to shrink. Only 18 percent want to repeal the law and not replace it, while all of 11 percent want to repeal and replace it with a GOP alternative — a grand total of 29 percent. Meanwhile, 49 percent want to keep the law and improve it, and another 10 percent want to keep it as is — a total of 59 percent.

Among indys, that keep/improve versus repeal/replace spread is 52-31. Republicans are all alone here, with their spread at 31-58.

That overall keep-versus-repeal spread has improved for the law since February (when it was 56-31), and even more so since December and October, suggesting a clear trend.

– Crucially, a majority, 53 percent, say they are tired about hearing about the law and want to move on to other issues. Only 42 percent think the Obamacare debate should continue. A majority of independents has had enough  (51-45). Even 47 percent of Republicans are done with it.

Most of the ACA’s individual provisions are wildly popular. Virtually every one of them — the Medicaid expansion; the preexisting conditions piece; subsidies for low income people’s coverage – has overwhelming majority support, and all of those are even backed by a majority of Republicans. The big exception: The individual mandate. (Caveat: This is only one poll. But the numbers on repeal and the individual provisions are similar to other poll findings.)

All this, even as Americans for Prosperity has spent $30 million in ads bludgeoning Obamacare in key states. Obviously what matters is opinion in those states, but the point is, eventually you could see fatigue over the debate set in there, too.

So here’s how Obamacare might recede as an issue. Republican candidates who know repeal alone is untenable make nice noises about the law’s popular overall goals. (See GOP Senate candidates Thom Tillis in North Carolina and Terri Land in Michigan; Scott Brown won’t say whether he opposes New Hampshire’s Medicaid expansion.) Yet when pressed on how they would accomplish those goals, they equivocate, it becomes clear they don’t have answers, leading people (who don’t want to return to the old system) to conclude Obamacare is the only feasible set of solutions. Meanwhile, people tire of the debate and want candidates to move on already.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean Republicans don’t have an even chance or better of taking the Senate. They do. But that may be largely because Dems are defending seven seats in red states, and because of Obama’s low approval ratings (which could reflect the economy). Nate Silver has noted that, even if the law is a liability for Dems, it’s “hard to tell where Obamacare’s unpopularity ends and Obama’s overall unpopularity begins.” Bottom line: We just don’t know whether overall “disapproval” of the law will matter that much. Dig deeper into public opinion and it looks plausible it won’t be a decisive factor – even if Republicans do take the Senate.

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* YET ANOTHER OBAMACARE HORROR STORY FROM AFP: Glenn Kessler takes a look at the latest Americans for Prosperity ad featuring another victim of Obamacare, a worried mom complaining her husband has to work more hours to afford the family’s new plan. Tellingly, Kessler concludes that AFP is not willing to provide enough documentation to verify the ad’s central claim.

This is consistent with what I noted yesterday: The gradual disappearance of the Obamacare sob story as one AFP ad after another comes under scrutiny.

* THE LATEST OBAMACARE DELAY: The Post reports:

The Obama administration has decided to give extra time to Americans who say that they are unable to enroll in health plans through the federal insurance marketplace by the March 31 deadline. Federal officials confirmed Tuesday evening that all consumers who have begun to apply for coverage on HealthCare.gov, but who do not finish by Monday, will have until about mid-April to ask for an extension.

The decision appears to be grounded in fears that a last-minute surge could crash the federal website again, which would be a political disaster for Dems. Meanwhile, the new Kaiser poll I mentioned above finds that six in 10 uninsured remain unaware of the March 31st deadline.

* DEMS TO CALL GOP’S BLUFF ON WORKERS’ TAXES: This is interesting: Senator Patty Murray is set to introduce a new bill that would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to childless adults. The point here is that the latter idea has long had general Republican and conservative support as a means for helping the working poor, because it provides an incentive to work. Meanwhile progressives have long thought the minimum wage hike and EITC expansion should be packaged together.

So you’d think this is something Republicans might consider accepting (though it is paid for by generating revenue through closing tax loopholes). The goal is to challenge Republicans to say whether they support tax cuts for workers as we head into the minimum wage debate.

* DEMS RAMPING UP PRESSURE ON DISCHARGE PETITION: Dems will introduce an immigration reform discharge petition today, and I reported yesterday that advocates are set to pressure 30 House Republicans to sign it. Nora Kaplan-Bricker explains that this is part of a larger, incremental strategy that partly about not just 2014, but also 2016. Frank Sharry:

“The map in 2014, generally speaking, is not that favorable for the immigration reform cause,” Sharry said, but the 2016 map is “excellent.” That year, GOP-held Senate seats in Latino-heavy districts will be up for grabs, and the Presidential election will swell the turnout of blue groups, especially minorities and young voters. Sharry gamed it out: “Our commitment as a movement is to get stronger in more places every election cycle. Quite frankly, we’re hoping to make some progress in 2014, but we’re hoping to have a huge 2016.”

ICYMI: My chart showing what the Latino share of the vote will look like in key states in 2016.

* A QUESTION ABOUT THAT DISCHARGE PETITION: Along the lines of the above, this is worth watching: Will GOP Rep. Cory Gardner sign the immigration reform discharge petition, given that he is running statewide (for Senate against Mark Udall) in Latino-heavy Colorado? If he doesn’t, Dems will hit him for prioritizing the GOP leadership over Latinos.

 * BOEHNER’S EXCUSE ON UI IS FALLING APART: John Boehner has claimed the Senate deal to extend unemployment benefits is not “workable,” citing a letter from  National Association of State Workforce Agencies President Mark Henry complaining an extension would burden states. But Politico reports:

In an interview, Henry said many in Washington had “conflated” the concerns of his organization with the speaker’s comments. NASWA takes no position on whether the bill should proceed, he said, but was simply raising technical concerns. “The letter that I wrote did not label the legislation ‘unworkable’; that was Speaker Boehner’s word,” Henry said. “There has been a certain amount of confusion as to what NASWA said and what Speaker Boehner said.”

Oops. Surely House GOP leaders will reconsider, given that they themselves claimed they were open to an extension, right?

 * AND THE QUOTE OF THE DAY, HAMMOCK ECONOMICS EDITION: See if you can make sense of this one, on why UI is a nonstarter in the House:

“It will encourage unemployment,” said GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. “We see the need to have unemployment [benefits], no question. But to extend this … I just don’t see how we have the votes.”

I guess this means that Nunes supports an extension, but it can’t pass the House because so many Republicans remain in the grip of the Hammock Theory of Poverty.

What else?

 

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.