By Yasmeen Abutaleb and Jason Lange
BEREA, Kentucky (Reuters)
Andy Barr, a Republican lawmaker representing central Kentucky, won his last three elections promising to repeal and replace Obamacare. This year, his Democratic challengers for Congress in Kentucky’s sixth district are betting that message will ring hollow
Their hopes lie with voters like Joyell Anderson, who went for President Donald Trump in 2016 and said she generally votes Republican. This year, she is not sure who to support for Congress, but she knows what her top priority is: healthcare.
The 43-year-old stay-at-home mother, who suffers from diabetes, anxiety and depression, is one of more than 400,000 low-income Kentucky residents who obtained Medicaid coverage under President Barack Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act. Barr’s vote last year to repeal Obamacare scared Anderson.
In 2016, she said, her top concerns were jobs and the economy, having grown up in a family of coal miners. Now, she worries about losing Medicaid and about work requirements introduced by the state’s Republican governor.
Politicians “need to think about us ordinary people,” she said, speaking at the rural health clinic that provides her care. “(We could) lose our benefits. And then what’s going to happen?”
Kentucky’s sixth congressional district, where two well-funded Democrats are running in a May primary to see who will stand against Barr in November, has in recent years gone solidly Republican. Barr won 61 percent of the vote in 2016.
Republicans say they are confident that Barr’s support will remain solid this year. “Both Democratic candidates are currently too busy fighting each other over who’s the biggest progressive — a surefire way to lose in a district where voters don’t subscribe to their liberal brand of politics,” said Jesse Hunt, spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
But many analysts see enthusiasm for the party weakening in the district and have identified it as one of several dozen seats Democrats might be able to pick up in the House of Representatives.
Democrats believe that voter concerns over rising medical costs and Republican plans to cut Medicare and Medicaid will assist them in their fight to retake the House and are urging candidates to emphasize the issue, particularly in swing districts.
Republican strategists are encouraging their candidates to focus more on the economy in November’s election. When they do talk about healthcare, many Republican candidates, including Barr, are warning voters that a Democratic majority would usher in socialized medicine.
Graphic: Voters say healthcare top concern, click.
PROTECTORS OF HEALTHCARE
Residents of Kentucky’s sixth district, home to both the city of Lexington and to rural towns struggling with the loss of coal jobs, have reason to focus on healthcare. People there suffer from lung disease at rates that far outstrip those in the rest of the country and drug overdose rates in parts of the district are among the highest in the nation.
Obamacare has deeply affected the area, mostly due to Medicaid’s expansion. After the health law took effect, the share of district residents with health insurance rose by 8.1 percentage points, nearly twice the national average, according to a Reuters analysis of Census Bureau data.
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