Terrific piece from Beth Reinhard in the National Journal about political class warfare in rural America. Here’s an excerpt that features our own RP:
Kentucky’s governor, Steve Beshear, is the only one in the South to have embraced Medicaid expansion and set up a state-based health insurance exchange. And for that, he’s being hailed as a Democratic leader who is paving populist inroads for his party among blue-collar whites. If enough of those so-called Reagan Democrats benefit from Obamacare, the thinking goes, they may start to view the Democratic Party as a friend to working people instead of as an enabler of welfare cheats.
“Kentucky is the 47 percent,” said the state’s former treasurer, Jonathan Miller, a Democrat who served in Beshear’s administration after unsuccessfully running against him for governor in 2007. “It’s been a very hypocritical electorate that wants those entitlement programs to protect their families but at the same time doesn’t want big government or elites in Washington interfering in their lives. But I think Beshear’s passion for this issue might start turning the tide.”
It’s a tough sell, however, to those who feel government has never done anything but screw them over. Rupe was disgusted when a follow-up letter about his Medicaid application included a voter-registration form. “I guess that’s the really important thing on their mind,” he grumbled.
In fact, the politics of Obamacare are so volatile that Lundergan Grimes refuses to say explicitly whether she supports Medicaid expansion in Kentucky. As a Democrat trying to navigate this Obama-wary red state, she has cautiously cast herself as more critic than cheerleader for the health care law. “As Alison has said for months, there are parts of the Affordable Care Act that need to be fixed, and the law is far from perfect,” Norton said. When addressing the struggles of low-income Kentuckians, Lundergan Grimes prefers to focus on the more popular cause of raising the minimum wage.
Indeed, the coming debate in Congress over the minimum wage will give Democrats another chance to try to win over the blue-collar whites who have long viewed them as sops for a welfare state beholden to minorities. If Lundergan Grimes, for example, can peel some of those voters away from McConnell, she has a chance to oust one of the most powerful Republicans in the country.
Republicans don’t have to trash the safety net to win elections. Congressional candidate Vance McAllister threw his support behind Medicaid expansion and trounced an Obamacare-bashing fellow Republican in a special election last month in Louisiana. Even Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu hailed McAllister’s victory, saying it proves that opposition to expanding Medicaid is a “political loser.”
“It’s unfair to say Republicans don’t care about poverty, but they should be held accountable for coming up with proposals,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economic adviser to 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain and the president of the American Action Forum, a center-right think tank. “I expect they will have to if they want to be seen as solution-oriented problem solvers who win elections instead of just opposing Obama’s agenda.”
If Louisiana hadn’t rejected the additional Medicaid money available under Obamacare, about 400,000 poor people would be eligible for government-funded health insurance. Across the country, an estimated 5.4 million people would have qualified for Medicaid coverage, but they live in Republican-run states that closed the door to them.
Because Kentucky did take the cash, 308,000 poor people are now eligible for health insurance in the Bluegrass State. Over the 11 months leading up to the election, McConnell and other Republicans opposing Medicaid expansion will be hard-pressed to explain why they want to take health insurance away from needy constituents who belong to their own party.
Click here for the full piece.