Kentucky Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes has an unlikely but potentially potent weapon in her Senate campaign to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY): Kentucky’s successful online health insurance marketplace.
While the federal government’s Healthcare.gov website has been plagued with problems providing ammo to Republicans, Kentucky’s online health insurance website, called Kynect, has been hailed as the model for how state marketplaces should work. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) himself has said the marketplace’s success has exceeded “far beyond our wildest dreams.”
But Grimes has been hesitant to be as vocal as Beshear about Kynect or the broader health care reforms. So far, she has followed the playbook of most red state Democratic candidates.
“She has called for an extension of the grandfathering period to allow the people of called for an extension of the grandfathering period to allow the people of Kentucky to keep their current plans, as well as an extension of the enrollment period and mandate delay for all Americans until the federal website is fixed,” Grimes spokeswoman Charly Norton said in an email to TPM.
McConnell, a longstanding critic of Obamacare, has also had to sharpen his rhetoric in order to protect himself from attacks from Republican primary challenger Matt Bevin and the well-funded Senate Conservatives Fund which has aggressively attacked McConnell as insufficiently opposed to the law.
Democrats in Kentucky are eager to have Grimes embrace Kentucky’s health care marketplace and go on the offensive against McConnell with it.
“I think we’re going to have a great story to tell here and be able to push back when the Republicans try to hit us with Obamacare,” Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Dan Logsdon told TPM. “We’re going to be able to point to Kentucky and point to the governor and, again a Kentucky-based solution. We’re not going to run from it next year.”
The Grimes campaign is vague on how much the candidate will highlight Kentucky’s success.
“I think that it’s pretty clear that here in Kentucky there is a thirst for that,” Grimes spokeswoman Charly Norton told TPM. “Alison has said that there are aspects of the Affordable Care Act that she is concerned by but there are also positive aspects as well.”
TPM asked Norton if Kynect would come up at future events with Beshear or other lawmakers. Though Norton said, Beshear “is very supportive of our campaign,” she was reluctant to discuss whether the two would campaign together.
“I think that’s to be seen,” Norton said. “I think we will talk about the issues with the Affordable Care Act as well as how we are seeing things shake out here in Kentucky and, like I said, the governor is supportive of the campaign and has been out there and will continue to be.”
Beshear’s office directed questions on whether the governor would mention Kynect at future appearances with Grimes to Logsdon. Logsdon said he did not want to speculate on what would be mentioned at future appearances.
Publicly, national Democrats say they expect McConnell to eventually lose support among voters for his opposition to the law.
“Mitch McConnell will pay a political price for advocating a plan that would take us back to a time when insurance companies could deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, discriminate against women, and allow insurance companies to harm patients,” DSCC spokesman Justin Barasky told TPM.
A Democratic senate campaign official suggested that the conversation on Obamacare will eventually move away from fully repealing the law to fixing it, and that’s when Democratic candidates will be more aggressive in touting the law.
“We had the last couple weeks where Democrats were on defense over this issue but as the conversation shifts more to fix versus go backwards to when insurance companies could hurt patients I think you’ll see Democrats on offense more and Republicans running into some political problems,” the official said.