The Republican strategy for 2014 rests heavily on a mass effort to pretend the millions of people benefitting from the Affordable Care Act simply don’t exist — or at least that those who are benefitting from the law’s “free stuff” are vastly outnumbered by ordinary hard-working Americans who have been victimized by job crushing big government and Obama-mandate-crazed tyranny.

But that illusion is getting harder and harder to sustain — and this may prove increasingly true even in red states. In the wake of the announcement of eight million Obamacare enrollments, Elise Vieback has a terrific piece this morning explaining that enrollments have beat administration expectations in the majority of states with competitive Senate races:

Seven states exceeded expectations by the end of the special enrollment period in mid-April, including six with Senate seats currently held by Democrats. 

In Louisiana, which beat its target by 8 percent, more than half of enrollments took place in the last six weeks. 

New Hampshire and North Carolina had the best results of the 11 states, achieving 211 and 187 percent of their enrollment goals…Michigan, Colorado, Montana and Georgia also beat expectations. 

Headlines in local media coverage of the numbers — which are being circulated by Dems — reflect this. For instance: “272,539 Michiganders selected plans on health exchange.” And: “Louisiana enrollment in Affordable Care Act exceeds 100,000.” And: “Nearly 358,000 North Carolinians sign up for Obamacare.”

With the usual caveats in mind — we don’t know how many paid; how many previously had insurance; or how many will face higher premiums later — what this shows is that Obamacare sign-ups surged even in places where local officials are hostile to the law.

Does this mean Dems in tough states will now campaign aggressively on the law? No, not really. Some Dems — such as Mark Begich — are not embracing it. But as I keep telling you, it’s overly simplistic to say Dems are running from it en masse. Obamacare will not be central to Dem campaigns, but Dems are using it, to varying degrees, to their advantage. In Louisiana, Mary Landrieu will continue hitting foe Bill Cassidy for opposing the Medicaid expansion currently being debated in the state. In Michigan, Gary Peters has aggressively chastised opponent Terri Land for opposing the expansion moving forward there. In North Carolina, Kay Hagan has cited likely foe Thom Tillis’ opposition as part of a broader case that he has implemented a harsh, anti-middle class agenda as state House speaker.

The enrollment spike in these states could give Dem incumbents and candidates marginally more confidence to engage Republicans more directly on the consequences of their repeal stance, and it will give more fodder to national Dems to argue that the national GOP posture on the law is increasingly unsustainable. Challenging the GOP repeal stance is about ginning up media pressure on GOP candidates to be more explicit about what they would replace the law with, if anything. The increasingly untenable repeal posture has already forced some GOP Senate candidates to mouth support for the law’s general (and popular) goals, even as they continue to struggle to articulate how they would accomplish them.

There’s no denying the law remains broadly unpopular. But the point is that, if the mounting presence of living, breathing Obamacare beneficiaries makes “repeal” harder and harder to sustain, and “replace” never takes on any specificity, the law could fade as a driving issue. For everyone but the GOP base, that is.

****************************************************************

Update: A state-by-state breakdown of enrollment numbers can be seen right here.

*****************************************************************

* GOP STILL STRUGGLING WITH OBAMACARE ALTERNATIVE: Meanwhile, David Drucker reports that House Republicans are inching ever closer to introducing that long-promised Obamacare alternative, and they have produced a “draft” proposal, but to make things easier, they may opt for introducing legislation, but not actually voting on it:

Achieving consensus likely would be easier  if the legislation is treated as a broad agenda to be tackled after the midterm elections….new Obamacare regulations have forced insurers to cancel coverage that doesn’t meet the new minimum standards, which enraged many voters. But Republicans would have a harder time raising the issue in the upcoming campaign if their Obamacare alternative did the same thing.

Heh. In other words, Republicans recognize they need to support the popular elements in Obamacare (such as strengthened consumer protections), but it’s not so easy to accomplish those things without all the Obama tyranny required to make it work.

* A GOOD JOBS REPORT! The jobs report for April is in:

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 288,000, and the unemployment rate  fell by 0.4 percentage point to 6.3 percent in April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.

Upward revisions:

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for February was revised from +197,000 to +222,000, and the change for March was revised from +192,000 to +203,000.

Is it possible that the economy could matter more than Obamacare in this year’s elections?

* IS GOP ESTABLISHMENT VANQUISHING TEA PARTY? National Journal has an interesting look at Thom Tillis’ quest to win the GOP nomination to take on North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan, and what it says about the GOP establishment’s increasing success in blocking weak Tea Party general election candidates. Here’s how Dems are preparing to deal with Tillis:

Democrats say they are confident that if Tillis wins the nomination, the state Legislature’s sharp turn rightward will provide them with ample fodder to portray him as combining the GOP’s two biggest general-election vulnerabilities: being beholden to the Far Right, and being closely associated with the political establishment…As House speaker, Tillis passed bills that enraged the state’s liberal base, including new abortion regulations, concealed-carry gun measures, cuts to unemployment benefits, and tighter voter-ID rules.

Also look for Dems to cite Tillis’ opposition to the Medicaid expansion as further evidence of his anti-working and middle class agenda.

* A CONSERVATIVE LITMUS TEST ON IMMIGRATION: This is worth watching: Conservative activists are pressuring Republican lawmakers and candidates to sign a new pledge — modeled on Grover Norquist’s anti-tax dictum — that would formalize their opposition to any form of work authorization for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.

If few Republicans sign this, it will be heartening. But whether they do or not, the basic situation remains that House Republicans have not proven willing to offer or vote on any legislative solution involving any kind of legal status for the 11 million. Whether this will remain the GOP position is up to one person: John Boehner.

* SENATE VOTE ON KEYSTONE COMING: The Wall Street Journal reports that Harry Reid is on the verge of holding a Senate vote to approve the Keystone pipeline, and explains the political dilemma as follows:

Mr. Reid’s comments reflect the Democrats’ calculus that a Keystone vote could provide a boost to vulnerable Democrats running for re-election in conservative-leaning states who must hold their seats for the party to retain control of the chamber in November’s midterm elections. But it also would expose divisions among Democrats and carry political risk because a Keystone defeat in the Senate could allow the GOP to blame Senate Democrats for the delay.

I’d add that no matter how the vote turns out, Republicans will attack red state Dems who vote Yes on the grounds that the project hasn’t moved forward yet — holding them responsible for the failure of the Obama administration to green-light it.

* MEDICAID FIGHT COMES TO A HEAD IN VIRGINIA: The Post reports that Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, frustrated by Republican hostility to a Medicaid expansion that would help avert a budget crisis, is exploring the possibility of expanding Medicaid through executive action, though it’s hard to see where his authority to do so would come from.

Republicans’ implacable opposition to accepting billions in federal money to cover hundreds of thousands of Virginians is remarkable, but I’m skeptical it will come to that. It looks like we’re headed for another government shutdown over Obamacare.

* AND THE TWEET OF THE DAY, JOB-CRUSHING OBUMMERCARE EDITION: Simon Rosenberg:

So a strong couple months of job growth right as the #ACA kicks into high gear. Possible GOP analysis of all this a bit off?

Nah. Unpossible. Republicans have been right about everything Obamacare-related.

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.