Opinion writer

The news that Tea Party Republican Matt Bevin snatched the Kentucky governor’s mansion away from Democrats is a particularly stark reminder of how deep a hole Democrats have dug for themselves at the state level, and of the consequences that could have for the long-term success of the liberal and Democratic agenda.

Bevin will replace Democratic governor Steve Beshear, who was perhaps the leading evangelist for the Affordable Care Act in the South. Beshear famously set up a Kentucky health insurance exchange and opted in to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion amid a region of hostility towards the law. Bevin has pledged to transition people off of the exchange to the federal one, and to shut down the state’s Medicaid expansion. But in Kentucky, the law has succeeded at its primary goal: Early on it successfully brought health coverage to some of the state’s (and the country’s) poorest and unhealthiest counties, and Gallup found earlier this year that Kentucky boasted the second largest drop in the uninsured rate of any state in the country.

Now those policy gains may be in some doubt. It remains to be seen how the state battle over rolling back Obamacare will play out or whether people will actually end up losing benefits. But the loss challenges Democrats’ assumption — one also touted on this blog — that they can win on hostile political turf by successfully demonstrating how government programs can help people and pointing out that Republicans will take all that away from them. As Dave Weigel notes, Beshear had explicitly said this.

The loss could also impact another policy area, too: Climate change. Obama’s Clean Power Plan aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants by setting carbon reduction targets for states. They can try to hit those targets with their own plan, or the feds will step in and create one for them. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell is a major foe of the CPP. But in Kentucky, under Beshear, the state had actually been preparing to comply on its own. Now the Republican win raises the question of whether that will continue. It’s true that even if the state ends up not complying, the federal government will create a plan for it. But state compliance and participation might increase the odds of success.

The broader point is that the Kentucky loss underscores once again that there are serious policy consequences to the profound deficit Democrats face on the level of the states. As I’ve reported, Democrats are well aware of this and are trying to something about it: it’s conceivable that by the end of this decade, the picture could look very different. But last night is a reminder of the stakes involved.

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* THE GOP PILE-UP ON MARCO RUBIO BEGINS: The Post has a good overview of the escalating attacks on Marco Rubio from his GOP rivals, from Donald Trump to Jeb Bush. The attacks focus mostly on his missed Senate votes, as well as this:

And then there are Rubio’s personal finances, which have dogged him since he ran for the Senate in 2010. During that campaign, questions emerged about his personal use of a credit card issued to him by the Republican Party of Florida when he served in the state House. He re­imbursed the state party for flights he said were mistakenly billed to the party and paid for personal expenses that he had charged to the card….“All you have to do is look at his credit card — I mean, he’s a disaster with his credit cards,” Trump said.

There will be a lot more of this. And Rubio may not be able to shrug it off as the handiwork of a liberal media conspiracy to help Hillary Clinton.

* CARSON-MENTUM RAGES ACROSS OUR FAIR LAND: A new NBC/WSJ poll finds that Ben Carson is the only Republican candidate who is tied with Hillary Clinton among voters nationally, at 47-47. Clinton leads Trump by 50-42; she leads Jeb Bush by 47-43; and she leads Rubio by 47-44.

Once again, head-to-head general election polling this far out is largely meaningless. But we will continue to post these numbers, because they are featured in the campaign spin wars and pundit chatter, and just to let you know that they are there.

* TRUMP AND CARSON CONTINUE TO DOMINATE: A new Quinnipiac poll shows Donald Trump and Ben Carson at the top of the Republican heap: Trump has 24 percent of GOP voters nationally, to 23 percent for Carson. Marco Rubio (14) and Ted Cruz (13) continue to jostle for position at the top of the second tier.

Oh, and Carson is leading Clinton among voters nationally by 50-40! If this doesn’t demonstrate that head-to-head general election polling is largely meaningless this far out, nothing does.

* CLINTON LEADS SANDERS, BUT HER PERSONAL NUMBERS ARE TERRIBLE: The new Quinnipiac poll also finds Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders among Democrats nationally by 53-35. But among voters overall, her favorable ratings are 42-52; her trust numbers are an abysmal 36-60; and Americans say by 44-53 that she cares about their needs and problems.

The question will be how much “trust” and “empathy” matters: Americans say by 56-41 that Clinton has strong leadership qualities, and by 62-36 that she had the right kind of experience to be president.

* CLINTON SWAMPING SANDERS IN SOUTH CAROLINA: A new Winthrop University poll shows that Clinton leads Sanders in among likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters by 71-15. Clinton has the support of 80 percent of African American voters.

This lends support to the idea that even if Sanders has a decent chance of winning in Iowa and in New Hampshire, Clinton’s broader coalition will enable her to win by racking up victories in states that follow. Of course, if Sanders wins both early states, the dynamic could shift dramatically.

* AND AMERICANS DON’T WANT A MUSLIM PRESIDENT: One last nugget from the new Quinnipiac poll: Americans say by 58-38 percent that they’d be uncomfortable with a Muslim president. Among Republicans, that’s 83-15; among independents, it’s 56-39. Only Democrats would be comfortable with a Muslim president, by 60-37. Looks like Ben Carson was on to something!