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First Thoughts: Obama Touts Sweet 16 in Last Health Care Push

The White House begins its final health-care push -- with a big basketball focus.

With now 12 days to go until the deadline for all Americans to have health insurance, the Obama White House is making a health-care push that appears targeted specifically to young men. For starters, President Obama’s NCAA bracket today will be featured on the White House’s website, which will be counting down the “16 Sweetest Reasons to Get Covered.” The president tying his NCAA picks to the health-care push comes as the White House already has basketball coaches Roy Williams and Geno Auriemma promoting the importance of obtaining coverage. NBA superstar Kevin Durant is tweeting the same message. And the White House is advertising on Bottom line: This is all about signing up as many more Americans -- especially men under 35 -- under the federal and state health-care exchanges.

What has improved for the administration on health care…

Given the upcoming March 31 deadline for Americans to have health-insurance, it’s worth observing what has improved since October and November -- when the federal website wasn’t working and when the administration was sustaining blow after blow -- and what hasn’t. Here’s what HAS improved: overall enrollment. Per HHS, enrollment has increased from a mere 106,000 in state and federal exchanges in October to more than 5 million now.

October: +106K

Nov (thru Nov 30): +259K (365K total)

Dec (thru Dec 28): +1.8 million (2.2 million total)

Jan (thru Feb 1): +1.15 million (3.3 million total)

Feb (thru March 1): +942K (4.2 million total)

As of March 16: +800K (5 million and still counting)

… And what hasn’t improved

But what HASN’T improved is the number of young Americans enrolling. From October through December, 24% of enrollees were ages 18 to 34. Since then, that percentage has increased to 27% -- still well below the 35% to 40% the Obama administration has been shooting for. And the mix of young, healthy adults will play a role in how health-care premiums for next year are priced. (If this mix stays this low, premiums could end up spiking in a way that only exasperates the law’s political problems. Then again, health-care premiums have always spiked, even before the law was written.) What also hasn’t necessarily improved is the law’s overall popularity. According to our NBC/WSJ poll from last week, 35% said the law was a good idea, versus 49% who said it was a bad idea -- virtually unchanged from the last few months. And, of course, we still don’t know how many of the folks who have enrolled in health plans have actually PURCHASED their plans with health-insurance companies.

Rauner narrowly wins GOP gubernatorial primary

It was a closer-than-expected race, but wealthy businessman Bruce Rauner won the GOP’s gubernatorial primary in Illinois Tuesday night, which now sets up one of the top gubernatorial contests for November. With 99% of precincts reporting, Rauner captured 40% of the GOP vote, state Sen. Kirk Dillard finished a close second with 37%, and state Sen. Bill Brady was third with 15%. In the general election, Rauner will face vulnerable Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn, who easily won his primary against nominal opposition. The back-and-forth has already begun. The Democratic Governors Association is out with a memo calling Rauner “a typical, uber-rich GOP politician who wants to slash the minimum wage, gut education and public safety, and cut taxes for the wealthiest so those at the very top can benefit.” Quinn is up with a TV ad on the same theme. Meanwhile, the Republican Governors Association is up with an interactive contest entitled “Blue State Madness,” where participants “can learn about the destructive policies and failed leadership of Democrat governors and candidates,” the RGA says.

Lots of 2016 GOP activity to track

The potential 2016ers on the Republican side have been busy -- or are about to be busy. Rand Paul today is giving a speech at the University of California (Berkeley), where he’ll be using the NSA issue as a way to reach out to the young audience. “I don't know about you, but I'm worried. If the CIA is spying on Congress, who exactly can or will stop them? I look into the eyes of senators and I think I see real fear,” he’s expected to say, per Politico. “Maybe it's just my imagination, but I think I perceive FEAR of an intelligence community drunk with power, unrepentant, and uninclined to relinquish power.” Ted Cruz was in Iowa yesterday, which marked his fourth trip to the Hawkeye State in the last eight months, according to NBC’s Alex Moe. And Paul Ryan is headed there next month. What’s more, Jeb Bush is hitting upcoming fundraisers and events for GOP candidates. Per CNN, “Bush … will appear with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam at a business leaders’ forum on education reform Wednesday and then headlines a fundraiser for Sen. Lamar Alexander that evening in Nashville. Both Haslam and Alexander are running for re-election.”

Tapping the brakes on Hillary and 2016?

Speaking of 2016, the Wall Street Journal writes that some of Hillary Clinton’s “closest confidants and allies aren’t sold on the idea that she should run” for president. Expect this storyline about friends being more nervous about a bid than operatives to be reported and re-reported quite a bit between now and the day she announces sometime in 2015.

Dems hit Christie, Land in web video

Lastly, scandal-plagued New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie today heads to Michigan, where he will attend a private fundraiser with Gov. Rick Snyder, as well as another fundraiser for GOP Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land. The Michigan Democratic Party has a web video tying the Christie administration scandals to Land. “[Christie’s] New Jersey-style ethics are a perfect fit for Land,” the video says.

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