Healthcare v immigration: parties bank on their core issues in midterms
Drew Altman, the president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, recently wrote that Democrats’ focus on healthcare has propelled it to “the top of the issue list in national polls, even ahead of the economy and jobs”.
Meanwhile, immigration has not only defined differences between Republicans and Democrats but opened up divisions within the GOP itself. On the back foot in an increasingly liberal district, Yoder has attempted to tread a careful line that has put him at odds with the president and his party’s candidate for Kansas governor, Kris Kobach.
Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, is continuing to hit the issue hard while fending off attacks on his record in opposing Obamacare.
At a recent rally with Trump in Topeka, Kobach told the crowd that undocumented immigrants are a drain on the state’s resources and that “it’s time to put Kansans first, not illegal aliens”.
“We’ve worked on a number of things, but the most important is stopping illegal immigration,” he said to huge cheers.
Kobach has long targeted immigrants. He headed Trump’s committee investigating what proved to be an illusory problem of foreigners voting illegally, and backed a state law requiring voters to prove their citizenship that was struck down as unconstitutional. But it does not appear to have delivered the support he hoped. He is struggling against his Democratic opponent, Laura Kelly, in a state Trump won by 20 points in 2016.
Yoder stayed away from the Trump rally in Topeka as he attempted to straddle the divide by saying that he supports the president’s plan for a border wall and the administration’s aggressive stance on illegal immigration, but that he also backed Democratic demands that those brought to the US as children be protected from deportation. Yoder also objected to migrant families being broken up with children separated from their parents until denunciations on Fox News forced him to retreat. Earlier this week, he dodged a question about whether Trump is right to threaten citizenship as a birthright.
So far, the balancing act is not paying off for Yoder. Polls put him behind his opponent, Sharice Davids, who has focused much of her campaign on healthcare.
In October Obama’s former health secretary and former Kansas governor, Kathleen Sebelius, appeared alongside Davids at a rally to preserve Obamacare reforms and focus attention on Republican attempts to dismantle key parts of it.
In neighboring Missouri, the Democratic senator Claire McCaskill has built the fight to save her seat around attacking the support of her Republican rival, Josh Hawley, the state’s attorney general, for scrapping Obamacare. Hawley joined the slew of GOP state attorney generals who jumped on the political bandwagon of filing lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act. That move was more popular then than now.
McCaskill has rebranded her campaign “Your Health Care, Your Vote” as she accuses Hawley of trying “to remove healthcare protections from nearly 2.5 million Missourians with pre-existing conditions, increase the cost of prescription drugs for some seniors and make it harder for Missourians to afford health insurance”.
It’s not clear if it will pay off for McCaskill but a similar strategy appears to have proved effective for Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, another Democrat thought vulnerable because Trump won his state by a bigger margin than any other two years ago.
Manchin looks increasingly secure after hitting his opponent, the state attorney general, Patrick Morrissey, hard for joining the legal action to have Obamacare overturned. His television campaign adverts repeatedly remind West Virginians who rely on government health protections in some form about the threat to the guarantee of insurance for people with pre-existing conditions. Manchin has tied that to Morrissey’s years as a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry and his wife’s work for a major drug distributor, in the state worst hit by the opioid epidemic.
The GOP acknowledges Manchin’s attacks over healthcare have had an effect, helping put the senator ahead in a race Republicans thought they would win. Morrisey’s attempts to paint Manchin’s support for immigration reform as putting down a “welcome invitation for caravans and illegal immigrants to enter the country” do not appear to have grained traction.
In Arizona, congresswoman Martha McSally admitted she is getting her “ass kicked” in her race for the US Senate over her votes for scrapping Obamacare despite a concerted effort to play on immigration fears.
McSally, who was the country’s first female combat pilot, has moved to the right on immigration over recent months. But it has not played well with independents, who make up about one-third of the electorate and put healthcare and education as their primary concerns.
Her Democratic opponent, Kyrsten Sinema, is favoured to take the seat after running a campaign that relentlessly focused on what she said was the threat McSally poses to healthcare for people with pre-existing conditions.
“I did vote to repeal and replace Obamacare on that House bill. I’m getting my ass kicked for it right now because it’s being misconstrued by the Democrats,” McSally told Sean Hannity on his radio show. “They’re trying to invoke fear in people who have family members or loved ones with pre-existing conditions.”