Don’t look now, but some of the most embattled Democratic Senators and candidates have actually been offering a surprisingly spirited defense of the political Ebola otherwise known as Obamacare. And get this: Some of them have actually spoken up a bit for its success in expanding health coverage to poor people. Remarkably, they have not yet imploded.

A narrative has developed even among some proponents of the law that Democrats have uniformly run away from it. No question, many Dems have been reticent to embrace it, let alone run ads touting it, but the story is more complicated than that.

Jill Lawrence has a good piece reporting on the politics of Obamacare with the sort of nuance that many commentators refuse to bring to the subject. Yes, Republicans are running a lot of attack ads about the law, and yes, those are probably hurting Democrats. But at the same time, Republicans are retreating from, and dissembling madly about, their repeal stance. And Democrats are not playing to type:

Though they aren’t making ads to heap praise on Obamacare, Democratic Senate candidates do know how to defend it in debates and on the trail. Iowa’s Bruce Braley talks about his nephew who, because of the ACA, will never have to worry about becoming uninsurable due to his “pre-existing condition” of having survived liver cancer at age 2. Alison Lundergan Grimes talks about more than a half million Kentuckians who are “for the first time ever” filling prescriptions, seeing doctors and getting checkups. “I will not be the senator who rips that insurance from their hands,” she says.

There’s more. In North Carolina, Kay Hagan has repeatedly attacked GOP foe Thom Tillis for opposing the Medicaid expansion for hundreds of thousands in the state, and Tillis has now kinda sorta flip flopped on it. In New Hampshire, this exchange happened at the recent debate:

CHUCK TODD: Senator Shaheen, is this a proud accomplishment for you?
SHAHEEN: Absolutely. Making sure almost 100,000 people in New Hampshire have access to health care is real progress for people in this state.

Shaheen and Hagan hold narrow leads, Braley is trailing slightly in a toss-up race, and Grimes cannot be counted out against Mitch McConnell. This, in states where truly enormous sums of cash have been spent for years on spreading all sorts of anti-ACA lies, distortions and hyped up “victim” tales.

I’m not claiming the law was a plus for Democrats. It’s probably still a net negative. Democrats did not campaign on it as a major achievement, as some urged. But they have grown a bit more confident in defending the actual policy accomplishments the Affordable Care Act represents. Meanwhile, Republicans have retreated to a place where the word “Obamacare” has essentially become a catch-all to represent everything the GOP base knows they hate about Obama and everything independents find disappointing about the economy and overall course of the country. All of which is to say that while “Obamacare” will remain unpopular for the foreseeable future, whoever wins these races, the outcomes probably won’t have much to do with the actual real-world impact of the law either way.


* ERNST HOLDS SMALL LEAD IN IOWA: A new Quinnipiac poll finds that Joni Ernst is leading Bruce Braley among likely Iowa voters by 48-46, little movement from Quinnipiac’s last survey in mid-October. That’s consistent with the polling average putting Ernst up 2.5, suggesting she holds a slim lead.

The Q-poll, interestingly, shows Braley with a huge 58-37 lead among people who already voted. For purposes of evaluating the Democrats’ voter mobilization efforts, the key question is who among them didn’t vote in 2010.

* SHAHEEN HOLDS SMALL LEAD IN NEW HAMPSHIRE: A new CNN poll finds Dem Senator Jeanne Shaheen leading Scott Brown among likely New Hampshire voters by 49-47. That’s within the margin of error, but it’s also consistent with the polling average putting her up nearly three points, which suggests she still holds a small lead.

Notable from the CNN poll: His approval rating is now 39 percent, suggesting he’s a drag on Dems even in purple states he comfortably won in 2008 and 2012.

Our present ratings leave Republicans with 49 seats and Democrats with 47 seats, with four Toss-ups: Georgia and Louisiana, which both might be heading to overtime, and Colorado and Kansas, where incumbents Udall and Roberts are in deep trouble — especially Udall — but retain a path to victory. To claim a majority, Republicans need to win half of the Toss-up states. Democrats need to win three of them to achieve a Biden Majority…Given the playing field, this arithmetic certainly advantages the GOP, but there is at least some chance that Democrats might pull off the unexpected.

I think it’s premature to write off Iowa, but Colorado and Arkansas do seem to be slipping away, and I broadly agree Democrats have their backs to the wall.

* SAM NUNN CUTS AN AD FOR MICHELLE NUNN: The Nunn campaign goes positive in a new ad featuring former Senator Sam Nunn speaking up on behalf of her candidacy. “My priority as a Senator was to get things done for Georgia,” he says. “I’ve seen time and again how Michelle is able to work with anyone to help people and solve problems. Washington works when we have independent thinkers on both sides of the aisle.”

In the home stretch we’ll be seeing a closing argument that uses the Nunn brand to defuse attacks on her as just another national Democrat, and to ground her candidacy in Georgia.

* TODAY IN THE KENTUCKY SENATE RACE: The Alison Lundergan Grimes campaign is circulating video of Mitch McConnell refusing to answer directly when questioned by reporters about charges that he pays people to show up at rallies. Meanwhile, Glenn Kessler has a brutal Four Pinocchio takedown of a new Grimes ad claiming “Mitch and his wife pocketed $600,000 from enemies of coal, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.”

* ON EBOLA, IGNORANCE AND FEAR ARE LINKED: A dispiriting finding from a new Associated Press poll:

Despite months of headlines about Ebola, nearly a quarter of Americans acknowledge they don’t understand how it spreads. Another 36 percent say they understand it only moderately well…Among those who feel they have a good grasp on how it spreads, 46 percent are deeply concerned; that rises to 58 percent among those who don’t understand it as well. Likewise, a third of those with more knowledge of Ebola are confident in the health system’s ability to stem an outbreak, and 27 percent think their local hospital could safely treat it. Among those who don’t understand Ebola, fewer than 1 in 5 shares either confidence.

Great job, media.

* INDEPENDENTS COULD HOLD SWAY IN SENATE: Norman Ornstein has an interesting look at what might happen if Greg Orman wins in Kansas and joins with other independents and conservative Dems to caucus together:

They go to both party leaders and offer to provide the votes for majority status in return for commitments on a list of policy and process priorities….there are other ways the institutionally minded independents could exercise constructive sway: pledges by Republican leaders not to hold show trial-style investigations into Benghazi…or other faux scandals; a requirement to bring to votes, without filibusters, most presidential nominations; a promise not to use…the debt ceiling for hostage taking.

One imagines the excitement of centrism-fetishizing pundits (Ornstein is decidedly not one of them) would be off the charts.