- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2018

Midterm voters are mostly likely to cite health care as a leading issue, according to a Thursday poll that bolsters Democrats’ decision to focus on coverage and care but says immigration and polarizing views of President Trump are crowding the message out.

More than seven in 10 voters say health care is very important to who they select for Congress, the Kaiser Family Foundation poll said, compared to 64 percent who cite the economy and jobs or 53 percent who point to tax reform — key selling points for Republicans who argue they’re putting more money in workers’ pockets.

Democrats have locked in on health care in the final weeks of the campaign, pointing to rising poll numbers for their signature Obamacare program and the GOP’s failed attempts to replace it with something better. And they’ve chastised Republican challengers who filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the 2010 health law, including its protections for people with preexisting conditions.

Kaiser said women from all parties cite health care as a leading topic, and that it favors Democrats who’ve seen greater enthusiasm this cycle.

“Democratic women voters could be particularly important in this year’s elections, as the poll finds that more than half (55 percent) of this group nationally say they are more enthusiastic about voting this year compared to past years,” the foundation said.

Less than half of Republican women and less than a third of independent women say they’re more motivated to vote this cycle.

Still, the findings are a mixed bag for Democrats who’ve gone all-in on health care and are pushing for more taxpayer-funded coverage options — including a government-run, single-payer system to cover everyone.

Kaiser said Republican voters rank immigration and the economy at the top of their list, so it might be hard for Democrats to pick voters off solely based on that issue, and voters also put great stock into things like individual candidates’ character and experience, which party might control Congress and their support or dislike for Mr. Trump.

Democrats are betting antipathy for Mr. Trump’s strident style will spark a “blue wave,” in addition to their policy focus on health care.

Yet despite health’s ranking as the top issue, fewer than half of voters say they’re hearing “a lot” from candidates about specific issues.

Slightly more than half are hearing about candidates’ position on Mr. Trump, and 58 percent of people are hearing about immigration, a big focal point for the president in his Twitter posts.

Within health care itself, 38 percent of voters say they’re hearing about efforts to combat the opioid epidemic — a bipartisan effort that GOP leaders have claimed as a key success under their leadership.

The debate around the Affordable Care Act (35 percent) and continuing protections for people with preexisting conditions (23 percent) rank further behind, and only 17 percent say they’re hearing much about single-payer, or “Medicare for all.”

Also, only 15 percent of voters in states that have refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare have heard much about the topic, even though a few of them will weigh in on expansion through ballot initiatives.

Democrats can take heart in findings from two battleground states — Florida and Nevada — where nearly seven in 10 voters say they’d be more likely to favor a candidate who wants to maintain Obamacare’s protections for people with preexisting conditions even if healthy people have to pay more.

Gov. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican running for Sen. Bill Nelson’s seat, and Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican fighting to save his own, say they support protections for sicker Americans outside of Obamacare, though the GOP has been unable to rally around a replacement.

Democrats point to Florida’s support of the lawsuit attacking Obamacare — although Attorney General Pam Bondi initiated the action — and fact-checkers who say coverage for preexisting conditions could be more limited or expensive under a replacement bill Mr. Heller wrote with Sens. Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham.

In Florida, more voters trusted Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum (43 percent) to protect sicker Americans than Republican rival Ron DeSantis (29 percent), while in Nevada, Republican Adam Laxalt has a 33-30 percent edge on the issue over Democratic opponent Steve Sisolak in the governor’s race.

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