The initial conventional wisdom about the Arkansas Senate race — that incumbent Mark Pryor is the nation’s preeminent Dead Dem Walking — is rapidly getting revised in the wake of new polls showing him ahead of GOP Rep. Tom Cotton.
So perhaps, in the context of the Arkansas race, it’s also worth revisiting the conventional wisdom that Obamacare is nothing but a hideous liability for Democrats, and can only shower Republicans with political gold from now until election day.
One of Senator Pryor’s senior campaign strategists tells me Pryor will not shy away from making the case that the state’s “private option” — its version of the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare — represents Pryor’s brand of good governance, and that Cotton’s repeal stance is extreme and bad for the state.
This is particularly relevant right now, as a fascinating new report from David Ramsey of the Arkansas Times demonstrates. Ramsey reports that the bipartisan private option — which uses Medicaid funds to expand private coverage to 150,000 Arkansans — has become a major issue in several state legislative Republican primaries.
Tellingly, the primaries turn on whether or not the private option actually constitutes Obamacare. Conservative candidates challenging Republican legislators over their support for the private option charge that it is, indeed, the hated law. One challenger derides his opponent for supporting the “implementation of Obamacare.”
Those legislators who support the private option maintain that it isn’t really Obamacare at all. “I am against Obamacare,” one says. “We can debate the private option, but saying I am for Obamacare — that’s just a lie.”
The private option, of course, is funded by Obamacare. And as Rachel Maddow points out in a good segment on the Arkansas Senate race, Democratic governor Mike Beebe has astronomically high approval ratings after fighting a bruising battle to get the private option passed.
Meanwhile, GOP Senate challenger Cotton will no doubt continue to say he favors repeal of Obamacare, but when pressed, he won’t say where he stands on repealing the private option in particular. This issue is very much alive for conservatives in Arkansas — but the GOP Senate nominee won’t take a clear position on it.
But Pryor’s campaign does not intend to let Cotton get away with ducking the true implications of his repeal stance.
“We won’t shy away from making the case that Congressman Cotton’s position means kicking 150,000 working Arkansas off their private health insurance,” Pryor deputy campaign manager Erik Dorey tells me. Speaking of the private option, Dorey adds: “This is an example of good governance — Republicans and Democrats coming together to pass something that’s good for our state. This is exactly in Mark Pryor’s wheelhouse.”
To be clear, Pryor probably won’t run ads on this or make it central to his campaign, which is focused on hitting Cotton over his support for Medicare cuts and opposition to the farm bill. But the point is that, for all the talk about Obamacare disapproval (which is real, and will probably remain a net negative for Dems), even Democrats on the toughest political turf can use the popular parts of Obamacare to draw a contrast with their foes. (Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan will also use their states’ failure to opt into the Medicaid expansion against their opponents.)
And by the way, Cotton isn’t the only high profile GOP Senate candidate pulling a homina homina homina on his state’s Medicaid expansion. So is Scott Brown. And Thom Tillis’ gyrations on Obamacare repeal are similarly absurd. So clearly, this isn’t the uniform slam dunk issue Republicans claim it is. The scrutiny is entirely on how Democrats are handling Obamacare. But some attention should be paid to how Republicans handle the pitfalls of repeal going forward. Time to take another look at the conventional wisdom here.