John Kasich’s Medicaid expansion gambit is a double-edged sword

Gov. John Kasich went against the grain of many GOP governors with his push to expand Medicaid in Ohio under the federal health-care law. How will the decision affect Kasich's reelection prospects? The early read is that it's a mixed bag.

(AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

(AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

A majority of Ohio voters (51 percent) say it is a good idea to expand the scope of Medicaid, the program that offers health coverage to low-income Americans, according to a new Quinnipiac University survey released Tuesday. Forty percent say it is a bad idea to broaden Medicaid to cover more individuals, and nine percent don't have an opinion.

That's the good news for Kasich, whose image was once floundering but who is now the front-runner to win a second term in 2014.

The bad news is that expanding Medicaid isn't really helping him secure votes. Nineteen percent say they are more likely to vote for Kasich as a result of his administration's decision. Twenty-three percent say it makes them less likely to support him. For the majority (54 percent), it makes no difference.

Perhaps as troubling for Kasich, almost a quarter of Republican voters (24 percent) say they are less likely to vote for for him as a result of the Medicaid expansion. Only 28 percent of GOP voters in the state say expanding Medicaid is a good thing.

Eight Republican governors have accepted Medicaid expansion under the health-care law. Within the party, that decision is generally seen as a possible political liability for pols like Kasich who might have their eyes on higher office, given that it is intertwined with Obamacare.

The flip side is the cross-party appeal Kasich stands to gain, which is critical in a state like Ohio. Nearly three in four Democratic voters (74 percent) like the idea of expanding Medicaid. And almost a quarter of Democratic voters (24 percent) say they are more likely to vote for Kasich as a result. The poll also shows that, in general, the idea of expanding Medicaid is becoming more popular in the Buckeye State.

Expanding Medicaid is not always a nonstarter in GOP circles. Witness the recent special election in Louisiana's 5th Congressional District. Vance McAllister, the candidate who embraced the idea, defeated the candidate who opposed it. Of course, the district's high poverty level made McAllister's position more politically tenable than it would be for many Republicans.

But on Election Day in Ohio, Republicans may still come to home to Kasich, despite their opposition to Medicaid expansion, some say.

"Because of Kasich's Medicaid expansion, 24 percent of Republicans say they are less likely to vote for him. History tells us, however, that many of those alienated party members come home on Election Day because they find the other candidates less palatable," said Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown.

The fact that most Ohio voters have yet to decide whether Kasich's Medicaid decision should move them one way or the other suggests the jury is still out on the political impact of his decision. It's simply not a clear political winner or loser at this point.

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