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First Read: The GOP's Obamacare Experiment Is About to Begin

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
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First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

The GOP’s grand Obamacare experiment is about to begin

Perhaps the most significant consequence of Republican Matt Bevin’s victory in Kentucky’s gubernatorial race last night is that it could result in the dismantling of maybe the most extensive (and successful) effort to implement Obamacare in the entire country, as our colleague Perry Bacon writes. And that would give national Republicans a statewide experiment to see how -- or simply if -- you can rollback the law. Under Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, “Kentucky's uninsured rate declined over the last two years from 14% to 9%, according to the United States Census Bureau, the biggest drop of any state in the country. And more than 400,000 people have newly enrolled in Medicaid,” Bacon says. But Bevin promised to eliminate the state’s health exchange, Kynect, and he raised concerns about the state’s Medicaid expansion, though he later softened his stance. More from Bacon: “[Bevin] now says he will follow the model of Republican governors like Indiana's Mike Pence, who have accepted the federal Medicaid funding but added changes like requiring some recipients to pay premium fees. ‘We're going to use what's called 1115 waivers. An 1115 waiver will be our request to CMS [the federal agency that runs Medicaid] for basically the ability to take a block grant and customize as Indiana and others have done to actually come up with a program that will provide for these folks,’ Bevin said in an interview with NBC News on Monday.”

Kentucky’s aftermath could very answer: How do you rollback the health-care law? And how big of a political price will you pay for it?

But Bacon writes that Obamacare advocates believe that even an Indiana-like program will result in Kentucky residents losing their health-care coverage. "A plan like Indiana's is going to limit coverage for Kentuckians. That's the bottom line. Fewer Kentuckians would get coverage," Emily Beauregard of Kentucky Voices for Health told Bacon. And so we’re likely to see a political fight play out in Kentucky that might even be bigger than yesterday’s gubernatorial contest: Bevin and Republicans will be trying to -- choose your term -- reform/rollback/dismantle the state’s health-care system under the federal law, while Democrats will argue that the effort will result in taking away people’s health insurance that they liked or didn’t have before. Bottom line: The aftermath of last night could answer these questions for national Republicans: If you want to repeal the health-care law, how do you do it? How big will the blowback be to changing people’s health insurance? And can repeal even be done?

Matt Bevin and The Outsiders

Responding to Democrat Jack Conway’s loss in Kentucky last night, the Democratic Governors Association issued this statement: “Unfortunately, [Conway] ran into the unexpected headwinds of Trump-mania, losing to an outsider candidate in the Year of the Outsider.” While blaming Trump for the Dems’ loss in Kentucky seems ludicrous (and while it discounts the fact that Conway has now lost competitive races for the House, Senate, and governor), there is something to Bevin being an outsider. After all, he ran against Mitch McConnell in 2014, and the establishment GOP really never warmed up to him. But Bevin won -- and that victory should empower conservatives who believe that they don’t have to settle on the squishy middle to win tough races. One other note on Kentucky’s result last night: It was good news for Rand Paul. Sure, his presidential campaign is on life support, but it doesn’t seem as if he needs to run back to Kentucky to save his Senate seat in 2016. Whether it was in Kentucky or in Virginia (where the GOP held onto the state Senate) or in Houston (where the anti-discrimination measure was defeated), last night was a good night for the GOP and conservatives.

The Democratic Party needs to take a serious look in the mirror

Think about this: If it weren’t for the Obama apparatus in 2008 or 2012, the Democratic Party would be MOSTLY shut out in races. None of the Obama campaign’s success has been translated to the Democratic Governors Association, the Democratic National Committee, or the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. These groups have been out-messaged and out-maneuvered -- especially in the competitive/winnable races. And just think if Democrats don’t win in Louisiana later this month…

New national Quinnipiac poll

Trump 24%, Carson 23%: Speaking of the GOP outsiders, Quinnipiac has a new poll of the national GOP horserace taken after last week’s debate (the NBC/WSJ poll was taken before and after the debate). The Quinnipiac results: Trump 24%, Carson 23%, Rubio 14%, Cruz 13%, and Bush 4%. On the Dem side, it’s Clinton 53% and Sanders 35%.

Clinton is way ahead in South Carolina

Meanwhile, per a new Winthrop Poll, Hillary Clinton is leading Bernie Sanders in South Carolina by a 71%-15% margin; Martin O’Malley gets 2%.

Your perfectly polarized electorate (demographically speaking)

As we reported last night, the new national NBC/WSJ poll shows Hillary Clinton tied with Ben Carson (47%-47%) in a hypothetical matchup, while she tops some of the other major Republicans -- Donald Trump (50%-42%), Jeb Bush (47%-43%), and Marco Rubio (47%-44%). While it’s still very early to be closely examining 2016 general-election matchups, the crosstabs of the NBC/WSJ poll show how polarized the electorate is, demographically, regardless of the candidates. To wit:

  • Clinton vs. Carson: Clinton leads among African Americans: 91%-5%; she leads among Latinos, 63%-28%, and she loses among whites, 36%-57%
  • Clinton vs. Rubio: Clinton leads among African Americans, 93%-4%; she leads among Latinos, 59%-30%; and she loses among whites, 36%-54%.
  • Clinton vs. Bush: Clinton leads among African Americans, 94%-6%; she leads among Latinos, 58%-29%; and she loses among whites, 37%-54%.
  • Clinton vs. Trump: Clinton leads among African Americans, 93%-4%; she leads among Latinos, 69%-23%; and she loses whites, 39%-52%.

By the way, one of the reasons why the Quinnipiac poll has Carson beating Clinton by 10 points, while the NBC/WSJ poll has the race tied: In the Q-poll, Carson gets 19% of the African-American vote. Oh, and don’t let it go unnoticed that Sanders actually outperforms Clinton vs. Trump and Rubio.

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