- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2014

Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes has carefully avoided endorsing Obamacare in her run for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, but Monday she inched closer to identifying herself with the president’s namesake health care law by launching an “AlisonCares” ad campaign.

While never mentioning Obamacare, the Web ad and associated social-media campaign dubbed “#AlisonCares” immediately evoked the controversial law and incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell’s sharp attack on Mrs. Grimes for supporting it and the rest of President Obama’s agenda.

Democratic candidates have struggled to defend Obamacare, especially in red states such as Kentucky that will decide whether Republicans can win majority control of the U.S. Senate this year.

In Kentucky, Mr. Obama and Obamacare remain wildly unpopular with voters, even as support has steadily increased for the state’s Kynect health insurance exchange created under Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act or ACA.

Mrs. Grimes may have opened a back door to support it. The ad features husband Andrew Grimes extolling his wife’s deep commitment to the people of Kentucky.

“She cares about Kentucky more than anyone else I’ve ever met,” he says. “She cares about the middle class. She cares about the women of Kentucky. She cares about our students. She cares about all those people that feel like they get left behind.”

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Mr. Grimes says that his wife is “the strongest fighter I’ve ever seen, and she will fight for Kentucky families in Washington, where they have not been fought for in a long, long time.”

The campaign highlights Mrs. Grimes’s support for the Democratic election-year agenda: raising the federal minimum wage, ending tax loopholes for businesses shipping jobs overseas, not touching Social Security and Medicare, and reducing student-loan debt.

The Grimes campaign urged supporters to share their stories about “why Alison Cares” by submitting letters to the editor, sharing photos and videos online and using the hashtag #AlisonCares on Facebook and Twitter.

It also played off of Mrs. Grimes‘ stump speech, in which she has declared: “Mitch McConnell doesn’t care. I do!”

Obamacare is not mentioned itself, but the ad does marry the word “care” and her name.

“It’s a good way to appeal to supporters without activating opponents,” said D. Stephen Voss, a political-science professor at University of Kentucky who specializes in the study of voter behavior.

“She’s got to mobilize the Democratic base. I think it is smart for doing that,” he said. “McConnell has done so well tying her to Obama with his messaging that I’m not sure she suffers more . She’s already paid that cost a lot.”

Obamacare remains a top campaign issue for voters nationwide and a drag on Democratic candidates in key Senate races. Health care ranked third on a list of top issues for voters, behind the economy and terrorism, according to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll.

The issue flared up last week in North Carolina and Louisiana, two other conservative states where incumbent Democratic senators are locked in close races.

Reports that health insurance rates were increasing in North Carolina prompted Republican challenger Thom Tillis to slam Democratic Sen. Kay R. Hagan for voting for Obamacare.

In Louisiana, National Federation of Independent Business dropped its endorsement of Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, citing her vote for Obamacare, and instead endorsed Republican Bill Cassidy.

Mr. McConnell, who is the Republican leader in the Senate, has relentlessly gone after Mrs. Grimes for being “President Obama’s Kentucky candidate.”

The McConnell campaign has a website dedicated to the message that Mrs. Grimes is Mr. Obama’s candidate, which features highlights of her support for Obamacare, including her statement that defunding it would be a “waste of time.”

Mr. McConnell leads Mrs. Grimes by 5.2 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls in Kentucky.

The Grimes campaign refused to answer questions about the link between AlisonCares and Obamacare.

Justin Barasky, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said that the ad and social-media campaign show that the GOP overplayed its hand in running against Obamacare.

“It’s clear that the GOP strategy of winning back the Senate on ACA alone has failed. Voters agree that we should be holding big insurance companies accountable,” he said.

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