Thom Tillis, speaker of the North Carolina House, had figured during his successful pursuit of the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate that he would attack the Affordable Care Act and President Obama and cause his opponent, Sen. Kay Hagan, to wither in fear.
In fact, Republicans all over the country are going after the ACA in a huge negative ploy to parlay the early dislike of the plan into a Senate takeover.
Unfortunately for them, while polls show a majority of Americans still dont like the ACA, the sentiment shows signs of softening and even changing. The reason is that for millions of Americans at least 8 million and perhaps 12 million fairly soon the ACA is working. In fact, its providing them with health care they never had that may save their lives.
And for working people whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid, the ACA has provided for federally funded expansion of Medicaid. North Carolina could have helped 500,000 citizens get Medicaid, but state Republicans turned it down simply because they dont like Obama. The federal government would pay the entire expense for several years, and no less than 90 percent of the cost thereafter.
But the GOP said no.
So Tillis is keeping it up, attacking the ACA and the president in a worn-out old strategy thats part of a campaign that apparently is going to be entirely negative.
But the speakers camp got a little surprise last week.
A sign for coming campaign
Not only did Hagan not wither, she defended her support of the ACA and noted how many people, and how many North Carolinians, were already benefiting from it. She also nailed the Republicans for their callous denial of Medicaid expansion to North Carolina families.
Hagan, a lawyer by training and a former state senator, knows a thing or two about debate, and this is a sign of a couple of things.
One, as she said, she talks to North Carolina constituents every day, and what she hears about the ACA isnt what the polls say.
And she notes that North Carolina has the fifth-highest number of enrollees people who have acquired insurance through a federal government website marketplace in the United States. That, she said, shows the need for affordable health care in our state.
So Hagan clearly isnt going to just take the Tillis attacks without response. She is going to stand up for an achievement that Republicans thought they could paint as a mistake or, borrowing their preferred term, a train wreck.
Being fair to voters
Therein lies a strategy that should make this campaign interesting: Until Bill Clinton came along, Democrats did frequently decline to engage in the fray. Clinton did the opposite. When attacked, he went right back at his opponent.
Is Hagan planning to adopt that quick counter-punch strategy? It appears so. And she owes that to her constituents. To allow Tillis and other Republicans riding the Negative-Only Train to deliver this kind of campaign instead of speaking to issues would be irresponsible for Democrats. And it would be unfair to Republican and Democratic voters.
It also lets Republicans in North Carolina off the hook, in terms of defending what was for many North Carolinians a disgraceful legislative session, with cuts to public education, bashing of teachers, cuts in unemployment benefits and diversions such as the anti-gay marriage amendment.
Thom Tillis helped run that session and agrees apparently with the old GOP theory of economics, which goes: Give the rich more, and they might allow those on down the ladder to gather a few crumbs. The speaker has even flirted with opposing the minimum wage, period, even though hes trying to dodge that one now that hes out of the Republican primary.
It appears that for everything he throws at Hagan over the next six or so months, shell be sending something back. Perhaps the Speaker should be careful.