If you’re looking for commonalities between the two men who were elected governor on Tuesday evening, you’re going to end up stuck with two things: Both men have benefited from appearing in public with President Obama and both men embraced Medicaid expansion.
“Expanding Medicaid … is the smart thing to do for our fiscal and public health,” Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) said in February, as he accepted the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of subsidized coverage for up to 300,000 New Jerseyans from families with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
Christie is one of more than a half-dozen Republican governors who have now accepted the expansion, all of whom waited until after President Obama was re-elected before deciding that denying hundreds of thousands of working families health insurance, completely subsidized by the government for three years and nearly fully subsidized thereafter, wasn’t a smart idea.
But the governor-elect of Virginia was not coy at all in his embrace of this key aspect of Obamacare, explains The New Republic‘s Alec MacGillis:
The gubernatorial election was won by Terry McAuliffe, who made the Medicaid expansion such a central part of his campaign that for a time he was even threatening to shut down the state government unless legislators included it in their budget. The expansion, which is now being studied by an ad hoc state panel, still faces big hurdles—the General Assembly remains firmly in Republican control, and the Koch brothers are spending heavily to pressure those Republican state legislators who dare to support the expansion. Still, the odds of the expansion happening are infinitely greater with McAuliffe in the Governor’s Mansion than with the fiercely anti-Obamacare Ken Cuccinelli.
Despite McAuliffe’s embrace of the president’s health care law and his Republican opponent Cuccinelli’s distinction as the first attorney general to file suit to block the same law, Republicans and some commentators are trying to spin the Democrat’s 3 percent win — the first time someone in the same party as the president has been elected governor of Virginia in 36 years — as a defeat for Obamacare.
“We tested Cuccinelli’s brag that he was the first attorney general to sue to stop Obamacare,” Terry McAuliffe’s pollster Geoff Garin told The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent. “That actually made more voters less likely to support him than more.”
Governor Christie’s approval rating skyrocketed after he embraced the help President Obama offered in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. McAuliffe engaged the “Obama model” of high minority turnout, with the president’s support, which helped push him over the top.
Medicaid may not have been the driving force in both men’s victories but the election on Tuesday made it far more likely that up to 342,000 Virginians will have access to health insurance. And it made the case that despite the problems with Healthcare.gov, expansion is still smart politics, at least in the states President Obama won — and maybe even in some he didn’t.