This week a Senator from North Carolina acknowledged that "Our nation’s health care system was unsustainable before Obamacare" and promised to defend such core principles of the Affordable Care Act as broader access to insurance and coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
That Senator was Richard Burr.
The plan he was promoting would replace the ACA with a new law, but clearly the goalposts have moved and the GOP establishment (Burr was joined by Orrin Hatch and Tom Coburn) now believes that Obamacare defines the healthcare debate; they’re talking means more than ends. Nobody understands this better than the folks to the right who hate Burr's idea the most.
Kay Hagan should be taking notes. She’s going to own Obamacare in this election whether she wants to or not, so she’d better figure out a way to leverage it to her advantage. And that may turn out to be a good strategy in and of itself.
This would have sounded crazy a month ago, but less so now. It’s still too early to tell, but the national signup trends are positive – and the North Carolina trends are surprisingly robust, indicating that a lot of Hagan’s constituents want to be having this conversation. The further we get from the botched website launch, the easier it may be to separate that genuine disaster from the actual program -- the program that does all the things that Burr recognizes as appealing to many voters.
None of which makes the own-it strategy easy, or makes Hagan a lock for reelection. North Carolina has a habit of ditching senators after one term. Much of the state is still in severe economic pain and Obamacare will always be a red flag for some voters, even those who might support the Lite version floated by Burr. And there’s a flood of money coming into the state to take Hagan down (credit the folks who made this ad with understanding the semiotics of North Carolina; from the color of the speaker's shirt to her hometown, the spot is pitched right at the centrist voters it means to reach).
But Hagan has real advantages, too. GOP rule in Raleigh has motivated Democrats like nothing I’ve seen before, and her likely opponent, Thom Tillis, is part of that operation. I’ve been told by insiders that Hagan will have a GOTV machine that builds on Obama’s statewide success in that realm (although I have no recent verification that this is actually happening). It’s possible to imagine a campaign in which Hagan stands up for the ACA (and talks about fixes for its problems) while pinning Tillis down between some form of Obamacare Lite and the hardcore repealers.
It could work, and I don't see another way for her to win.