Republicans remain gung-ho for repeal, and continue to insist Obamacare is destroying the lives of millions, if not American freedom itself. And yet, Republican Senate candidates are increasingly sounding like Obamacare’s most ardent supporters in one key way: they are rhetorically embracing the imperative of expanding affordable health coverage to those who need it.

Republicans may still win the Senate in part by campaigning against Obamacare, which remains generally unpopular in red states, where the map dictates Senate control will be decided. But some GOP candidates are now embracing the general language of universal health coverage. It’s often observed advocating for repeal, with no replacement, is a loser. But there’s more to the story: Opposing Obamacare’s goals is becoming politically complicated.

The latest: GOP Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who is running against Dem Senator Mark Pryor. The Arkansas Times reports that Cotton is refusing to take a position on the state’s version of the Medicaid expansion. Cotton supports repeal and replace (though the Times reports he is unable to detail what replacement would accomplish what Obamcare does). But note the specific language Cotton uses:

“We want every Arkansan, we want every American, to have quality, affordable access to health care.”

He’s not the only GOP Senate candidate who makes nice noises about universal health care. Terri Lynn Land, the GOP candidate in Michigan, won’t say where she stands on the Medicaid expansion in her state, and continues to repeat a statement that says: “healthcare should be affordable and accessible to all Americans…we as a society have a moral obligation to help those who are not as fortunate.”

Meanwhile, North Carolina GOP Senate candidate Thom Tillis wants to replace Obamacare with something, but won’t say what, and when speaking generally about the issue, he says that of course he wants “some sort of safety net for preexisting conditions.” Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell continues to call for repeal, but ran an ad touting his efforts to bring health care to sick people who desperately needed it.

How is it possible Republicans can win the Senate by attacking Obamacare while feeling the need to acquiesce rhetorically to some of the hated freedom-usurping-law’s general goals? There’s that map: Dems are defending seven seats in states carried by Mitt Romney, which would be true even if Obamacare were more popular. What’s more, as Nate Silver has observed, disapproval of Obamacare could to some degree reflect disapproval of Obama (which in turn might be rooted in the economy and Washington paralysis). Republicans may be successfully turning Obamacare into a focal point for anxiety about the #Obummer economy and government gridlock in the face of the sputtering recovery.

To be clear, Obamacare is very likely to remain a net negative for Senate Dems. But a confluence of factors is complicating this picture. There’s mounting enrollment, which now means repeal has concrete ramifications for millions. There’s the increasing realization that Republicans can’t offer any meaningful replacement for those millions without offering something that makes trade-offs very similar to those in Obamacare. Can Republicans win the Senate by calling for the repeal of the law, while endorsing the general goals of expanded or even universal coverage and/or stronger consumer protections, even as they offer nothing that would accomplish those goals? Sure, it’s very possible. But the conversation is shifting to a place where Republicans have to say they agree with those goals. And that alone is a positive step.


* THE COMING POLITICAL WAR OVER OBAMACARE PREMIUMS: The Wall Street Journal reports on a crucial finding in the new CBO report on Obamacare’s long term impact: Premiums for insurance on the exchanges will be lower than expected. But Republicans are nonetheless seizing on the news:

” ‘Lower than expected’ is still not the same as ‘lower,’ ” said Don Stewart, deputy chief of staff for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Costs and premiums are still going up.”

As always, the certainty that Obamacare will never prove anything other than a total disaster is unshakable. Still, if premiums are, in fact, to be lower than expected in 2015, it could mitigate the political effect if and when we start getting word of that during the 2014 elections.

* WHAT THE CBO REPORT REALLY MEANS: Jonathan Cohn has a typically balanced explainer on what the new CBO report’s findings on Obamacare do and don’t tell us, with this key quote from Larry Levitt:

“It is good news that premiums have come in lower than expected, meaning lower costs for the federal government and for families as well. It’s a sign that the ACA may be working to hold premiums down by forcing insurers to compete over price rather than by cherry-picking healthy people. Sustaining this, as CBO anticipates, will be key to the law succeeding.”

Also noteworthy, from NBC’s First Read crew (no link yet): “what this CBO report does is paint a MUCH MORE nuanced portrait of the health-care law than opponents would believe. Bottom line: Obamacare has now enjoyed maybe its best two weeks of news (CBO report, 7.5 million sign-ups) since the law’s passage in 2010.”

* OBAMACARE HAS MINIMAL IMPACT ON MOST PEOPLE: Eugene Robinson makes a good point about the CBO report:

Obamacare…will leave the present system basically intact. The CBO predicts that a decade from now, the great majority of non-elderly Americans will still obtain health insurance through their employers — an estimated 159 million, as opposed to 166 million if Obamacare never existed….So, to recap: The Affordable Care Act is a cautiously designed set of reforms whose impact on most people is approximately zero. It is well on the way toward its goal of providing coverage to the uninsured.

At a certain point you’d think this would complicate efforts to portray the law as a secret plot to transform the country into something no longer recognizably American, but the GOP base won’t have it any other way.

* GARY PETERS LEADING IN MICHIGAN: A new poll reported on by WLNS in Michigan finds Dem Rep. Gary Peters leading GOPer Terri Land by 41-36. Notably, the pollster observes that adds attacking Peters over Obamacare are not moving the needle. How much money has Americans for Prosperity dumped into the state again?

This is the second recent poll finding Peters with a lead, coming after a recent robo-poll from Public Policy Polling also found him up five. However, a note of caution: The Real Clear Politics average only has Peters up by 0.8 points.

* LANDRIEU ROLLS OUT NEW AD: Embattled Dem Senator Mary Landrieu is up with a new minute-long spot that stresses twin messages: She has stood up to Obama on energy policy, and now, as Energy Committee Chair, she occupies the top perch for defending Louisiana’s interests. Landrieu’s hopes rest on reminding voters of her independence, toughness and willingness to defy Washington Dems on behalf of her state — and of the wisdom of keeping someone in the Senate who has accumulated so much clout on oil and gas.

* KEEP AN EYE ON NORTH CAROLINA SENATE PRIMARY: The Raleigh News and Observer profiles Greg Brannon, the Tea Party challenger to establishment fave Thom Tillis, noting he is making the Constitution central to his candidacy. If Tillis is forced into a runoff, Brannon very well may be his opponent, potentially drawing in outside conservative groups and forcing the GOP nomination deep into July.

* WILL OBAMA ACT ON GAY WORKPLACE DISCRIMINATION? The New York Times editorial board urges President Obama to issue an executive order banning federal contractors from discrimination in hiring based on sexual orientation. Obama is now under mounting pressure to use executive authority on everything from this to climate to deportations (after acting on the minimum wage and pay inequity).

* AND IT’S NOT LOOKING GOOD ON CLIMATE CHANGE: Coral Davenport has a great piece detailing that despite the U.N. climate change report’s dire warnings about the future, Congress remains unable to act to curb carbon emissions, partly because of GOP climate denialism and partly because of bipartisan ties to the fossil fuel industry. This is interesting:

During this year’s midterm election campaigns, Republicans have used carbon-control policies as a political weapon, calling Mr. Obama’s E.P.A. rules a “war on coal.”…Within that context, many in the Republican establishment think that talking about climate change — and, particularly, any policy endorsing a tax on fossil fuels — would be political suicide for a Republican seeking to win the party’s nomination in 2016.

It’ll be interesting to see what role climate change plays in the 2016 general election…

What else?