Ohio Governor John Kasich, who has accepted the Medicaid expansion his state, recently suffered from an outbreak of accidental candor, making these remarks about the Medicaid expansion and the prospects for repealing Obamacare:

“That’s not gonna happen,” Kasich told The Associated Press during a recent re-election campaign swing. “The opposition to it was really either political or ideological,” the Republican governor added. “I don’t think that holds water against real flesh and blood, and real improvements in people’s lives.”

Now, perhaps recognizing how lethal this is to his hopes in upcoming GOP presidential primaries, Kasich has rushed to clean up the mess:

“I don’t back Obamacare. I never have. I want it to be repealed,” he told The Washington Post in a telephone interview. “If the House and the Senate [are Republican-controlled] and we have a Republican president, Obamacare will be repealed flat out. Flat out. And it will be replaced.”

But the truly revealing thing about Kasich’s comments was not his suggestion that Obamacare won’t be repealed. We already know that. It was that he admitted the law has made “real improvements in people’s lives.” And even in his effort to clean up his comments, he again implicitly admitted this to be the case, claiming he supports Obamacare’s general goals but not the ACA itself:

“I support covering a population of people who are drug-addicted and mentally ill. I support eliminating preexisting conditions,” said Kasich. “But that doesn’t have anything to do with my feeling and support to the ACA.”

This perfectly captures one of the one of the under-appreciated subplots of this election cycle. Many Republican Senate candidates have played this same rhetorical game on Obamacare, one that enables them to profit from the general unpopularity of the law — and its chief author — while fudging madly on the true implications of their own stance on its proper fate. They are running against the word “Obamacare” while leaving the general impression that of course folks can keep the good stuff in the law without the bad. At the same time, they need to keep telling core GOP voters (whose enthusiasm is crucial to GOP midterm hopes) that of course they are still gung-ho for repeal.

This straddle finally got some serious press attention with Mitch McConnell’s widely mocked evasions at the recent Kentucky debate. But it has been widely and stealthily employed by other GOP candidates, too, with little media scrutiny. Kaisch’s candor neatly gives away the game.

The reason for this two-step is nicely captured in the new Kaiser Family Foundation poll. A majority of Americans — and a majority of independents — wants to move past the debate over the health law. But a big majority of Republicans (62 percent) wants the debate over the law to continue. And the same stark divide exists on repeal: A big majority of Republicans (65 percent) wants their Member of Congress to keep pushing for repeal, while a large majority of Americans and independents wants lawmakers to work to improve the law. People know there’s no GOP alternative, and don’t want to go back (Republicans excepted) to the old system.

The GOP game may work and Republicans may win the Senate. But as Peter Suderman has explained, the bigger story is that, by failing to come up with a real alternative to Obamacare, Republicans have locked themselves into an untenable long term position. They continue to pay lip service to repeal, even as they have effectively conceded the ideological argument over the law’s general goal of a government-sponsored coverage guarantee and protections for the poor and sick, without doing the hard work of explaining how they would accomplish that goal. As Suderman notes, Republicans will have to deal with this straddle eventually, probably in the coming GOP presidential primary. Kasich’s gyrations show that this won’t be easy to do.


* POLL FINDS DEAD HEAT IN KENTUCKY: The new Bluegrass poll finding Mitch McConnell at 44 percent and Alison Grimes at 43 is notable because it finds McConnell stuck at a dangerous place for an incumbent. It also comes after Grimes supposedly destroyed her candidacy (according to the D.C. press) by refusing to divulge her 2012 vote. As one expert puts it:

“It is clear some portion of these people who dislike President Obama, nonetheless, are showing willingness to vote for her.”

This is the second Bluegrass poll to find the race close to tied. Still, caution is warranted, because the polling average still has McConnell up four points.

* McCONNELL TO OUTSPEND GRIMES? David Drucker reports:

The Republican has placed reservations for $2.1 million in broadcast and cable television advertising across a broad array of media markets between Tuesday and Nov. 4. A pro-McConnell super PAC is scheduled to run another $1.4 million in television spots during the same period. Grimes has reserved $1.4 million worth of television time, in fewer broadcast markets and with less of a reliance on cable than McConnell.

Sounds like McConnell thinks he’s already got this. Seriously, the question now is, Will the DSCC come back in on the air?

* MICHELLE  NUNN AIMS TO AVOID RUNOFF: Roll Call takes a look at the Georgia Senate race, reporting that the top goal for Democrats and the Michelle Nunn campaign is to win outright on Election Day with more than 50 percent. That’s because winning a runoff that could decide which party controls the Senate could prove particularly difficult in a red state.

Nunn still trails by four in the average. But the full impact of GOPer David Perdue’s outsourcing comments has yet to be felt, and FiveThirtyEight puts the odds of a Dem win here higher than those of a GOP win in North Carolina.

* DRIVING HOME JONI ERNST’S ACTUAL VIEWS: Remember that audio of Joni Ernst claiming a “generation” of people “rely on government for “absolutely everything,” and weaning them is going to be “very painful”? Bruce Braley’s campaign is out with a new web video that features Ernst’s quotes, concluding: “Don’t let Ernst’s ‘painful’ ideas become a reality. Vote now.”

The Braley camp has spent months highlighting Ernst’s actual views, and the consequences they would have, in the face of the GOP effort to sand down Ernst’s rough ideological edges and make the race about her personal story.

* FAST-CHANGING IOWA DRIVES SENATE RACE: Don’t miss Michael Barbaro’s terrific piece on the demographic and cultural changes that are transforming Iowa. The shift of people from rural towns and a farming way of life to urban centers is further polarizing the state and shaping the Senate race:

Joni Ernst…has appealed to conservative rural voters, portraying herself as a hog-castrating, gun-firing daughter of Iowa’s agricultural roots. The Democrat, Bruce Braley, a fourth-term representative, has embraced a more urban-friendly agenda, speaking out forcefully on climate change, advocating a higher minimum wage and backing same-sex marriage…Iowa’s rural values, conflicted by farmers’ deepening reliance on government and colored by a growing investment in the green economy, are no longer reflexively Republican.

As Ed Kilgore has noted, Ernst’s campaign is all about packaging her as the “embodiment of sturdy Iowa folk virtues.” This will work if the older Iowa is the one that turns out to vote.

* LOCAL CONCERNS DRIVE MANY RACES: Alex Roarty has a nice overview of a trend that hasn’t gotten enough attention: Races in Wisconsin, North Carolina and Kansas are being driven as much by local concerns and the backlash against conservative state legislative overreach as by Obummer and the national political environment.

As you’re no doubt tired of hearing, this once again shows that right wing governance is on the ballot this fall, too.

* THE ‘MYTH OF THE MIDTERM MANDATE’: Michael Gerson has a must read explaining why a Republican takeover of the Senate could actually end up reinforcing some of the GOP’s more self destructive tendencies:

Republicans are susceptible to the myth of the midterm mandate. Midterm elections generally express unhappiness, not aspiration. But some conservatives took the 2010 result as an ideological turning point. They concluded that Obama’s 2008 victory was an anomaly — that the country, deep down, was really on the Republican side. It was a false dawn…Republican midterm victories are the anomaly, distracting attention from trends that are gradually condemning the Republican Party to regional appeal and national irrelevance.

Exhibit A: Immigration.

* AND CONSERVATIVES RELY HEAVILY ON FOX: Some fascinating tidbits from a new Pew Research survey. It finds that conservatives

* Are tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than any other group in the survey, with 47% citing Fox News as their main source for news about government and politics.

* Express greater distrust than trust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey. At the same time, fully 88% of consistent conservatives trust Fox News.

Did someone say Conservative Closed Information Feedback Loop?