Over at TNR, Alec MacGillis argues that Alison Lundergan Grimes would be winning if she had mentioned the success of Kynect in the state, and yes, she does apparently take into account the same NY Times article that I pointed out was evidence that here in Kentucky, people will never give Obama credit for anything.
No doubt, there are many GOP-inclined voters like Ms. Evans among the several hundred thousand Kentuckians who have obtained coverage under Obamacare. Their existence, and quotes like this, only confirm one of the most popular conceptions of red state politics in the minds of blue state liberals: the “What’s the Matter with Kansas” notion that lower- and middle-class white voters in these states are voting Republican even though their economic interests are far better represented by Democrats. How else to explain that a state like Kentucky could be benefitting so much from the law and yet be leaning Republican?
But this likely takeaway from the piece—like the "What's the Matter with Kansas" thesis more broadly—may oversimplify things. For starters, my strong hunch from my own reporting in the region over the past couple years—including several trips to Kentucky for a new book on McConnell—is that the Democrats’ biggest problem in Appalachia and the Upland South is not that the people who are benefitting from Obamacare or would stand to benefit from it if their states fully implemented the law are voting against their own interests, for Republicans. It is that many of those people are not voting at all.
Well, I agree with her on that part at least. I certainly don't expect turnout here in Kentucky to be more than 40%.
No, the bigger problem for Democrats in Kentucky is the second one I identified at that free medical clinic, the political disconnect of the low-income population that stands to benefit most from the law. And this is where the scrutiny really needs to shift away from the voters and to the candidate. Alison Lundergan Grimes’s campaign has made the decision to talk about Obamacare as little as possible, even though the law has had a bigger impact and better implementation in Kentucky than just about anywhere in the country, thanks to the staunch backing of Governor Steve Beshear, a Democrat. Her campaign is avoiding the issue despite the fact that McConnell is so aware of his vulnerability on it—vowing to repeal a law that has provided coverage to hundreds of thousands in his state—that he has wound himself into comical pretzels to obscure the ramifications of his stance, claiming at points that “kynect” could survive even if Obamacare is repealed. The Grimes campaign briefly pounced on this blatant disingenuousness, but has not been nearly as aggressive pressing the point as it could have been.
Evidently, the Grimes camp worries that talking about Obamacare’s benefits for Kentucky necessarily yokes her closer to the law’s namesake, who is not popular in the state and who is constantly named in the barrage of ads that have been attacking Obamacare, virtually unchallenged, across Kentucky. They assume that talking up the law will inevitably backfire with the likes of Robin Evans. But deeply anti-Obama voters like Evans are likely a lost cause for Grimes regardless. What her campaign could dearly use is higher turnout from Democratic-inclined voters who, like many Kentuckians, have a low opinion of McConnell and who haven’t voted in the past but might just be prompted to do so with a strong pitch for the benefits of “kynect.” Grimes, to her credit, has tried to reach out to such disconnected, downscale voters with a sustained message in favor of raising the minimum wage. But why not strengthen that "I'm with the little guy" appeal even further with a forthright pro-kynect message that both appeals to self interest and highlights McConnell’s double-talk on health care?
Because of the shame factor. People in Kentucky and especially Coal Country are literally dirt-poor. They have been for some time, and some of the poorest counties in the state are also the most Republican when it comes to turning out. These are folks who are proud and sick of the fact they need help. Giving them more help is one thing. Having them take the help is also another. But having them be grateful enough for the help to vote for a black President's proxy?
Nope. It's easy to blame Grimes here. The real problem is social, cultural, and racial.
Yeah, Grimes has run a bad campaign and I've said as such. The fact that she's within 4 or 5 points speaks volumes as to just how sick people are of Mitch McConnell screwing them over. But Rand Paul better watch out when he faces voters again in 2016 once Obama is out of office.