Here’s a really interesting example of how the GOP Obamacare repeal stance is running into complications even in a deep red state like West Virginia. It also shows how Dems can seek to turn the Obamacare war of anecdotes to their advantage by dramatizing the local impact of repeal — though it still remains to be seen whether this strategy will be enough to offset the law’s (and Obama’s) deep unpopularity in regions such as this one.
A battle has erupted in West Virginia over an ad that Dems are running against state senator Evan Jenkins, the Republican candidate who is seeking to unseat Dem Rep. Nick Rahall, in a nationally watched “toss up” race.
The Dem-allied House Majority PAC is airing an emotional spot that hits Jenkins over Obamacare repeal by featuring a coal miner who fears losing his black lung benefits if the Republican is elected to Congress. The charge is that, if Obamacare is repealed, miners could lose expanded black lung protections that the late Senator Robert Byrd inserted into the Affordable Care Act. The ad says Jenkins “vowed to repeal black lung benefits”:
The Jenkins campaign has objected to the ad, arguing that while he would repeal Obamacare, he remains firmly opposed to any cuts in black lung benefits, and stressing that he would replace the law. FactCheck.org has sided with Jenkins, arguing that repealing the law isn’t quite the equivalent of repealing the benefits. But FactCheck.org does concede that the repeal of Obamacare would mean that “some miners and surviving spouses would be denied benefits and some would find it harder to obtain benefits.” And FactCheck.org also notes that the replacements Jenkins has suggested for the law don’t deal with black lung benefits.
Meanwhile, the president of the United Mine Workers tells the Charleston Gazette that repealing Obamacare “would have the practical effect” of “cutting off black lung benefits for most, if not many, of those applying for them.” The Gazette also notes that Jenkins “has not explained what he would do to protect those benefits if the ACA were repealed.”
Beyond the factual dispute, this nicely captures in microcosm the challenges that both sides face when it comes to the politics of the law.
If you watch the ad, you’ll note that it doesn’t mention Obamacare at all, instead only claiming that Jenkins would “repeal black lung benefits” and “supports letting insurance companies charge women more for health care,” a reference to the ACA’s protections. This underscores the political reality that “Obamacare” and “Obama” are certainly toxic here, yet some of the things in the law are quite popular even in red states and the charge that repeal would take away those things creates problems for Republicans.
“This is a great example of how effective it is to localize the impact of repeal,” a Democratic operative involved in the race tells me.
Even Republicans admit that the repeal stance is potentially problematic for them, but they believe ultimately the law’s unpopularity will outweigh that. “This is something that Republicans need to be prepared to deal with — it has complications,” one GOP operative closely following the race says. “But tactical hits like this don’t do anything to reverse broader views on the law, which is far more impactful on these races than spats over individual provisions.”
Indeed, Dem Nick Rahall is clearly vulnerable on Obamacare. Americans for Prosperity has run two ads hitting him on the issue. However, for Democrats in multiple races, the strategy of hitting Republicans on the implications of repeal is not about winning on the issue, it’s about lessening the damage.
The idea is to get folks to conclude that, while they may not like Obamacare, Republicans don’t have any answers of their own on the issue, thus fighting it to a draw and broadening these contests to include other areas. The question is whether that can succeed in outweighing the grand GOP narrative — which is designed to turn Big Bad Obamacare into a proxy for the president himself, the #OBUMMER economy, and Big Government’s exacerbation of economic misery — an effort that may well work in hostile political territory.