Republican Endorses Medicaid Expansion, Wins Special Election

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 18 2013 11:33 AM

Republican Endorses Medicaid Expansion, Wins Special Election

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Duck Dynasty's Willie Robertson, above, approves of Vance McAllister.

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The newest member of our beloved House of Representatives will be Vance McAllister, a first-time candidate who surprised everyone and routed state Sen. Neil Riser by double digits in a weekend runoff vote. Both candidates were Republicans, but Riser had the backing of national leaders. McAllister—and this is basically the only detail national reports on the race noticed at first—had the backing of the Duck Dynasty cast. In northeast Louisiana, that matters.*

Arguably more important, as a matter of policy: Riser was a doctrinaire opponent of Obamacare. McAllister pledged to "stop Obamacare," too, but in the final candidate debate, he came out for the Medicaid expansion.

During Friday's debate, he made it clear that because of the high poverty rate in the 5th District -- one of the highest in the country -- he believes the governor should accept the Medicaid expansion. He also criticized Jindal for his push to do away with the state's charity hospital system.
"Our governor and Sen. Riser right here have gutted (heath care) to the core and privatized it," said McAllister, adding, "Before we give handouts, we need to give hand-ups."
Not accepting offers like Medicaid expansion is the wrong choice, McAllister said: "If you're going down the road at 50 mph, you just can't throw it in reverse." 
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A Republican came out for the Medicaid expansion—and he won! Does this represent a sea change or a game change or a double down or a [insert cliche] in our politics?

Maybe not. See, Louisiana is one of three states that hold open primaries and runoff elections. McAllister and Riser made the runoff; a Democrat narrowly missed it. That left a huge pool of votes for someone to grab in a district that's 36 percent African-American—one of the largest nonwhite populations in a district currently held by a Republican. In those other 47 states, where Republican nominations will be decided by Republican voters only, endorsing part of the Affordable Care Act to benefit the very poor might not be a stone-cold winner.

*I updated this with a reference to Louisiana that was previously, mysteriously absent.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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