POLITICS
11/03/2014 05:49 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Obamacare Could Save Alison Lundergan Grimes

WASHINGTON -- Most polls show Alison Lundergan Grimes trailing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky's closely watched Senate race. But a secret weapon for Grimes may be something she struggled to embrace for most of her campaign: Obamacare.

More than 413,000 people in Kentucky have obtained health insurance thanks to Kynect, the state's adaptation of the Affordable Care Act. About 330,000 residents received insurance under the law's Medicaid expansion, while more than 82,000 have purchased insurance through Kynect's insurance exchange. For a lightly populated state like Kentucky, those are numbers with the potential to alter election results on Tuesday.

McConnell defeated Democrat Bruce Lunsford in 2008 by 106,811 votes -- 953,816 to 847,005 according to the Kentucky Board of Elections.

Nobody knows how many of the 413,000 Obamacare beneficiaries in Kentucky voted in 2008, or how many will vote on Tuesday. But given McConnell's persistent attacks on Obamacare -- he continues to say he wants to eliminate the program "root and branch" -- it's a large well of potential Grimes supporters.

In McCracken County in 2008, McConnell beat Lunsford by 2,030 votes. In the first year of Kynect, nearly 6,000 residents in the county signed up for health insurance through the new system.

In 2008, McConnell won Harlan County in the east by 789 votes. More than 4,600 Harlan residents have signed on to Kynect. McConnell won Hopkins County by some 1,900 votes. More than twice that number received health insurance through Kynect.

There may be counties that McConnell should write off due to Kynect. One is Perry County, which he won in 2008 by a mere 185 votes. More than 5,500 residents in Perry County signed up to Kynect.

Even in the conservative strongholds of northern Kentucky, thousands of residents now have health insurance because of the state's program. In Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties, more than 23,000 residents signed up to Kynect.

Despite her state's success in implementing the new health care law, Grimes was very slow to embrace Kynect in her campaign, dodging questions about Obamacare for months until she finally began hitting McConnell on the issue in May. Since then, Grimes has solidly supported the program -- which she typically refers to by its state name, since "Kynect" polls better than "Obamacare."

McConnell, meanwhile, has tried to have it both ways, saying he supports Kynect, but wants to tear out Obamacare "root and branch."

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