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Republicans across the country may be banking on a “repeal Obamacare”-only message carrying them to victory in November, but at least one powerful conservative group is shifting its message closer to the mainstream.

In an ad released Tuesday, the Chamber of Commerce insists that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — whom the Chamber has endorsed in his 2014 re-election campaign — “is leading the fight to fix this Obamacare mess.” Not repeal. Fix.

McConnell cannot control what the Chamber of Commerce says about him, but the ad represents a significant shift from the minority leader’s promise to to repeal the law “root and branch.”

It’s not hard to understand why the Chamber is avoiding the more fiery anti-Obamacare rhetoric that has characterized the health care debate in other red states. Kentucky has become a model for how well the Affordable Care Act can work in states that are not actively working to undermine it. In just one month, the law reduced Kentucky’s uninsured population by 5 percent, and 250,000 Kentuckians are projected to have enrolled in new coverage by the end of February. They’ll presumably have a problem with McConnell’s repeated promises to strip them of their health care.

The ad may be an indication that the Chamber is looking past the May 20 Republican primary, and toward the general election. Any equivocation on repealing the Affordable Care Act is anathema to Tea Party voters — McConnell’s primary challenger Matt Bevin literally lists the senator’s supposed ambivalence on the issue as the number-one reason to vote against him — and it’s hard to imagine the Chamber running this ad if it thought McConnell were in any danger of losing the nomination. Given that Kentucky is benefiting so significantly from the law, however — and that repealing Obamacare is generally a less popular proposal than keeping it in place and fixing its broken parts — putting some distance between McConnell and the Tea Party position could help him in what’s expected to be an incredibly tight race against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

There’s plenty of reason for the Chamber to be confident about McConnell’s primary hopes; the incumbent senator holds a massive lead over Bevin in the polls, and his big financial advantage is arguably even more significant.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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