Battered by Trump, Obamacare triumphs at the polls
Obamacare made a comeback in Tuesday’s elections, its strongest show of support since President Donald Trump was elected and the GOP spent months on a futile effort to repeal it.
In the governor’s race in Virginia and a ballot initiative in Maine, the Affordable Care Act buoyed Democrats, a remarkable reversal from how Trump and congressional Republicans won elections excoriating the “failed” and “doomed” law.
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A remarkable 4 out of 10 Virginians in early exit polls said health care was their top issue in a race that saw Democrat Ralph Northam, the current lieutenant governor, handily defeat Republican Ed Gillespie to become Virginia’s next governor. And in Maine, voters in a landslide backed Obamacare Medicaid expansion, which their governor had vetoed on five separate occasions.
As Democrats now look to the 2018 midterms that will decide control of the House, Senate and key governorships across the country, they can begin to more confidently embrace the law that’s covering 20 million Americans and that emerged politically stronger after surviving months of concentrated Republican repeal attacks.
“We have an opportunity to send a very clear signal to anyone who is spending time and money opposing the ACA,” said Jonathan Schleifer of the Fairness Project, which poured funding into the Maine ballot measure campaign and is trying to boost lookalike Medicaid initiatives in states such as Utah and Idaho. “What is not unique to Maine is the support for ACA [and] the enthusiasm for expanding coverage. I think Maine is a great bellwether for the rest of the country.”
Yet even in Maine, the timetable for accepting new Medicaid enrollees remains in doubt after Gov. Paul LePage said he will not implement expansion until the state Legislature — which reconvenes in January — figures out how to cover the state’s costs. LePage, who was elected in 2010 and is term-limited next year, spearheaded the opposition.
Northam’s victory also gives Virginia Democrats their best chance since 2014 of expanding Medicaid, a move that would cover roughly 400,000 people. The party also made enormous gains in the state’s House of Delegates, which has long been controlled by Republicans. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe tried repeatedly to expand, but never won over state lawmakers.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said there is “no question” that Medicaid expansion is back on the table in Virginia. “He’s got an enormous mandate,” he said of Northam, a pediatrician. “The Republicans are as shell-shocked in this state as Democrats were a year ago.”
Exit polling from Edison Media Research found that 77 percent of Virginia voters who named health care as their top issue voted for Northam, according to results in The Washington Post on Wednesday.
Tuesday’s results came after recent polling has demonstrated that Obamacare is more popular than ever and Republican plans to dismantle it were met with fierce resistance across the country. But it’s easy to overstate its revival; the country is still deeply divided on the health law. Fifty-two percent of voters held a favorable view of the ACA in August, and 39 percent still had an unfavorable opinion, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll. Other polls have shown the gap to be narrower.