Yesterday’s election was a clear black eye for Democrats. The Washington Post headline they will wake up to today is: “From coast to coast, conservatives score huge victories in off-year elections.” The biggest victory came in Kentucky, where every pollster had shown Democrat Jack Conway beating Republican Matt Bevin. Democrats declared the race a referendum on Obamacare. Retiring Democratic governor Steve Beshear told the Washington Post yesterday that the key issue in the race was Bevin’s pledge to eliminate or modify the state’s Medicaid expansion and follow that up by abolishing the state-based exchange, called Kynect.
With the expansions, one out of four Kentuckians now receive government-paid health care. You’d think that would represent an overwhelming constituency against any change, but not in all cases. Modernhealthcare.com reported:
Even some residents who are enrolled in the expanded Medicaid program or an exchange plan supported Bevin.
Stanley and Deborah Harp, who own a business in Georgetown, Ky., were among Americans who saw their policies canceled after the Affordable Care Act went into effect. They now qualify for Medicaid, but they aren’t happy about it and they voted for Bevin.
“We’ve had the same doctor groups for the past 20 years who have our history, our kids had as pediatricians,” said Deborah Harp.
Bevin, a tea-party activist who incurred the wrath of Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell by challenging him in a primary last year, was given up for dead by establishment Republicans for much of the campaign. The Republican Governors Association (RGA) pulled out of running ads in the race for several weeks, but came roaring back in the final two weeks with a $2.5 million investment in digital media, direct mail, and television. He and McConnell also reconciled, and the Senate majority leader did a fly-around the state with Bevin on Monday.
Another smart play came from Heather Higgins’ Independent Women’s Voice, which continues to punch above its weight class. It targeted undecided voters in Kentucky with targeted messaging on Obamacare. GOP insiders also credit her with keeping the donor class’s eye on the race as winnable even after the RGA temporarily pulled out of the race — so much so that donor pressure appears to have had a hand in persuading the RGA to go back in with their final closing blitz.
Despite the thumping they received in Kentucky, Democrats are resisting that it stemmed from any policy failures. Democratic Governors Association executive director Elisabeth Pearson chalked up Conway’s defeat to “Trump-mania” in a press release: “Jack Conway ran a strong campaign. . . . Unfortunately, he ran into the unexpected headwinds of Trump-mania, losing to an outsider candidate in the Year of the Outsider.”
So be it. It appears the Year of the Outsider may involve a winning candidate taking clear conservative stands on issues and questioning the wisdom of Obamacare. Republican presidential candidates need to study the lessons of Kentucky and absorb them.