The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Center right nation?

GOP Rep. Tom Cotton has told an Arkansas radio host that he will — “as a citizen” — vote for the minimum wage hike that will be on the ballot this fall. This comes after Mark Pryor and Arkansas Dems had been moving to make it an issue, in part to turn out more core Dem voters in what is looking like a really close election.

It’s worth stepping back and observing the larger pattern of GOP behavior on multiple issues here:

* National Tea Party hero Tom Cotton supports a state minimum wage hike and, despite his gung-ho Obamacare repeal stance, has repeatedly refused to say he’d roll back the state’s version of the Medicaid expansion, which is responsible for the sharpest drop in uninsured of any state in the country.

* Multiple other GOP Senate candidates — Joni Ernst in Iowa, Scott Brown in New Hampshire, and Terri Lynn Land in Michigan — have refused to clarify whether they’d roll back the Medicaid expansion moving forward their states. At this week’s debate, Thom Tillis declined to reiterate opposition to the expansion in North Carolina.

Their position, in a nutshell, is: Obummercare is evil and it must be destroyed immediately, but I really don’t want you to think I would ever kick people off the Medicaid expansion!

* Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS has run multiple ads hitting Democrats from the left as a major threat to social insurance programs for the elderly — angering right-leaning observers who say it’s at odds with fiscally-conscious small government conservatism.

* Tillis in North Carolina and Cory Gardner in Colorado have come out for over-the-counter contraception. Indeed, by Reid Wilson’s count, four GOP Senate candidates have done this. Tillis and Gardner are key here, because they have been getting hit hard by Democrats over their previous support for Personhood measures. In moderating his position, Gardner even pronounced himself “a new kind of Republican.”

* In the Michigan Senate race, climate change has, counter-intuitively, emerged as a major issue, partly because Dem candidate Gary Peters has pushed it, calling on GOP candidate Terri Land to take a stand on whether she believes humans are a leading cause of global warming. In response, Land’s campaign has fudged her position, suggesting that she disagrees with Peters on the “extent” of human responsibility for it, while seeming to edge in Peters’ direction by stating that “there is no denying that the climate is changing and we must take measures to protect the environment.”

I don’t want to overstate the importance of all of this. The Republican candidates are still hewing to many conservative positions. And Democrats, too, have moved to the center, downplaying talk about Obamacare’s success in covering poor people and hardening their stance against any Obama executive actions on immigration. But still, these GOP candidate shifts seem noteworthy given that Dems are the ones facing the stiff political headwind. Indeed, in one sense, these GOP candidates seem to be undertaking their own piecemeal versions of the GOP makeover that many Republican operatives had hoped to see before the House GOP lurch to the right scuttled those plans.

The question is whether the swing voters these candidates seem to be trying to reassure will buy these maneuvers. If they do, Republicans could very well win the Senate. But of course, in reality, candidates like Tillis and Gardner are already on record in support of Personhood measures. On some of these issues a GOP-controlled Senate would push in exactly the opposite direction. In that private enclave with top donors, Mitch McConnell candidly stated that in a GOP-controlled Senate the minimum wage hike would not get any debate. Republicans would probably interpret a GOP Senate takeover as a referendum on Obamacare, likely leading to budgetary tactics designed to chip away at the health law, more repeal votes (including on the Medicaid expansion), and perhaps even a stiffening of the spine of GOP governors still holding out against the expansion in their states.