Ever since Mitch McConnell’s comically absurd evasions on Obamacare began gaining attention from the press, people have wondered whether Alison Lundergan Grimes would make them an issue. McConnell’s refusal to say what should happen to Kentucky Kynect — even as he continues to call for repeal of the ACA – allows Grimes to point out that McConnell’s position would take health coverage away from hundreds of thousands of constituents who are benefitting from it, and he won’t admit it.
Now the Grimes campaign is finally hitting McConnell over his gyrations on the issue, accusing him of “voting to destroy Kynect.” From Grimes senior adviser Jonathan Hurst:
Mitch McConnell has been in the fantasyland that is Washington for so long that he cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction. McConnell has voted to destroy Kynect — and he has said he will do it again. In the U.S. Senate, Alison Lundergan Grimes will fix the law to ensure it is working for all Kentuckians.
This seems somewhat defensive. It again leans heavily on a vow to “fix” the law, and doesn’t state flatly that Kynect is a policy success. Some Dems, such as Rep. John Yarmuth and pollster Celinda Lake, have suggested Grimes go further. Lake told me the other day that her polling has showed that Kynect polls positively in Kentucky, even as the law known as “Obamacare” or the “Affordable Care Act” remains under water.
Lake suggests this to Grimes: “She could say, `In Kentucky, we got it right. I’ll take Kentucky values to Washington.”
The idea would be to focus people on something they like — the state exchange — separating it from the hated Obummercare, localizing the contrast between the two candidates’ positions. Her statement today does not mention Obamacare, signaling again that Kynect is far more popular in the state, and that it’s now somewhat safe to make an issue at least out of the state exchange. Indeed, elsewhere Grimes has said: “I am not and will not be for taking away insurance that 400,000 Kentuckians just recently got access to.”
Still, given the tentativeness of Grimes’ statement, clearly she is still not prepared to cross over into seriously making an issue out of that contrast, and it just won’t be a central point she makes. As noted here before, I understand all the reasons for Grimes’ reluctance.
Yet McConnell’s sudden outbreak of evasiveness and incoherence about repeal — which is supposed to be nothing but a slam dunk winner for Republicans — is still a key moment in the debate, one that amounts to a concession that the GOP’s position on this issue is also seriously problematic. (This can be true even as it’s also true that Democrats will continue to be weighed down by the law and Republicans still have a decent chance of winning the Senate, thanks to the map.)
Meanwhile, there are signs the Kentucky press sees this as a real story. As a very tough editorial in the Kentucky Herald Leader puts it:
Nothing could be more connected — or should be more important to Kentucky’s senior senator — than the fates of the more than 400,000 Kentuckians who are getting health insurance, many for the first time, and the federal Affordable Care Act, which is making that possible. [...]
As a result of a law that McConnell wants to repeal, one in 10 of his constituents no longer have to worry that an illness or injury will drive them into personal bankruptcy or a premature grave.
Repealing the federal law would also end the Medicaid expansion that is enabling Kentucky to expand desperately needed drug treatment and mental health services. [...]
Kentuckians are waiting to learn if their five-term senator understands — or cares — how much is at stake.
As Joe Sonka points out in a good piece, McConnell is betting that press coverage won’t clearly explain to voters just how absurd his position really is. But perhaps now that Grimes is engaging on the issue — to some degree, at least — that could serve as a hook for top shelf reporter and commentator types to take a peek at what’s really going on here.
It should be self evidently newsworthy that the leader of Senate Republicans, who have based their entire 2014 strategy on the idea that Obamacare is a long term political disaster and massive repudiation of liberal governance, refuses to take a clear position of his own on the law’s future in the state he would represent, and on whether hundreds of thousands of his own constituents should continue to enjoy its benefits.