When the political history of the Affordable Care Act is written, Kentucky will occupy a special place in the tale. The implementation of the ACA there has helped produce the second steepest drop in the uninsured rate of any state. Yet even though that’s occurring in one of the most unhealthy regions in the country, the general idea of “Obamacare” remains deeply unpopular.

The New York Times has a great piece this morning looking at this disconnect. Reporter Abby Goodnough talks to Robin Evans, a Republican warehouse packer who signed up for Medicaid under the ACA. She loves her new coverage, but really dislikes the guy who signed the law creating it:

“I’m tickled to death with it,” Ms. Evans, 49, said of her new coverage as she walked around the Kentucky State Fair recently with her daughter, who also qualified for Medicaid under the law. “It’s helped me out a bunch.”
But Ms. Evans scowled at the mention of President Obama — “Nobody don’t care for nobody no more, and I think he’s got a lot to do with that,” she explained — and said she would vote for Senator Mitch McConnell…who is fond of saying the health care law should be “pulled out root and branch.”

Ms. Evans may not know that if McConnell got his way, she and her daughter would lose the coverage that has left her “tickled to death.” And that may be in part because McConnell has carefully fudged the real implications of his repeal stance, not coming clean on whether he’d roll back the Medicaid expansion in Kentucky. And even if she does know this, she isn’t voting for Obama anyway, because she’s a lifelong Republican and dislikes him for many other reasons.

The Times notes that this shows the law’s success won’t help Dems in red states. And there’s no denying the ACA probably remains a net negative for red state Dems. However, the above anecdote, and McConnell’s evasions on the law — which many other GOP Senate candidates are replicating — neatly capture another key aspect of the politics of Obamacare. Republicans have been forced to adjust to the reality that people like what’s in the law, which has left them essentially running against the word Obamacare while professing, to varying degrees, support for the law’s general goals and fudging on whether they would take its benefits away from people. The basic strategy of Republicans has been to campaign on repeal while leaving the vague impression that we’ll be able to keep the good stuff in the law without the bad.

This is why Obamacare has faded, at least to some degree, as a driving political issue. Politico’s David Nather has a great piece explaining that the law has now become political “wallpaper” more than anything else:

Even Republicans who still believe it’s a significant issue, and a damaging one for Democrats despite its benefits, can’t point to races that are likely to be decided on the health care law alone…the most Republicans can say is that Obamacare…will work as a symbol of government overreach in some races, and it has already changed the political environment by helping the GOP recruit stronger candidates. Republican pollster Ed Goeas says the health care law “has come to represent overreach of the federal government,” and that is its main value in GOP ads.

Or, put another way, the law has become primarily useful as a way to channel disapproval of the law’s creator, and attendant doubts about government and the economy, in the direction of Dem incumbents and candidates. This may well work for Republicans — they may win the Senate. But as Jonathan Bernstein has explained, the actual politics of Obamacare bode well for the law’s long term prospects, because they suggest no one will ever take its benefits away from people.

* THE ‘KOCH SISTERS’ ARE BACK: The AFL-CIO is going up with a new ad on national cable featuring the “Koch sisters,” who are presenting themselves as Everywoman alternatives to the billionaire Koch brothers. Karen and Joyce Koch (who are not sisters but come from union families), describe the Koch sisters’ movement as being about “everyone having a piece of the American pie.”

The Koch sisters appeared in a previous ad in the first round of a “novel…multi-platform push” to get information about the Koch brothers and the union movement to the American people. The AFL-CIO says the new ad is a response to an outpouring of social media support for them, and that this push will continue.

* SENATE BATTLE CONTINUES TO TIGHTEN: The major Senate models continue to tighten up. The New York Times’ Upshot forecast has control of the Senate at exactly 50-50. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight has the odds of GOP control at 53.3 percent. The Washington Post Election Lab has the odds of GOP control at 50.1 percent. And the poll-centered models — Sam Wang and HuffPollster — give Dems the edge.

The models may drift a bit back towards Republicans soon, but the larger story is that the numbers show control of the Senate is a toss-up with a slight GOP lean.

* JONI ERNST SURGING IN IOWA? A new Quinnipiac poll has a surprising finding: GOPer Joni Ernst is now leading Dem Bruce Braley by six points among likely voters in Iowa, 50-44, an edge that is driven by a seven point lead among independents. The polling average (without the Q-poll included) shows Braley up by 1.5 points, so either the new Q-poll is an outlier or a harbinger of more to come in other polls.

Obviously, if it’s true that Ernst is surging, it becomes much, much harder for Dems to hold the majority.

* SHAHEEN SURGING IN NEW HAMPSHIRE? A new New England College poll finds Dem Senator Jeanne Shaheen leading Scott Brown by 11 among likely voters, 51-40. (The internals are not yet available.) Remember all the media attention lavished on that CNN poll showing a dead heat? Keep an eye on the polling averages, folks. In this case, they show Shaheen up by 4.4 points.

* REPUBLICANS SURGING ON GENERIC BALLOT? A new New York Times/CBS poll finds Republicans now leading by six points on the generic ballot matchup, 45-39. The polling average has Dems with a slight edge, but if this NYT poll is a sign of things to come, perhaps that GOP wave is beginning to crest, after all.

* AND MORE GOP DEMAGOGUERY ON IMMIGRATION: Glenn Kessler has a great catch here: An outside group affiliated with Karl Rove’s Crossroads is running an ad tying Alison Grimes to Obama’s “amnesty” bill, but it turns out Crossroads previously advocated for immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, as a good thing for the country.

It’s yet another indication that the GOP has lurched to the right on immigration. Previously I had noted that demographically aware Republicans were watching this development in horror; now figures like Rove are going along with it.