Frequently wrong Washington Post political blogger Jennifer Rubin isn't particularly bullish on the Democrats' chances of picking up the Virginia governorship in 2013. The problem, she writes, is the "reflexive liberalism" of Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, as evinced by his support of the Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid, which she argues won't "fit well with Virginia's penchant for fiscal sobriety." That's a curious argument for a couple of reasons: conservative Republican governors across the country have been signing on for the Medicaid expansion, and the expansion itself is almost completely paid for with federal dollars.
But Democrats have their own problem: a nominee who might be the one party member who could lose to Cuccinelli, Terry McAuliffe. He lost badly in the gubernatorial primary in 2009. Since then he has done little to overcome his two main problems: He has no real Virginia profile (and in fact considered for a time running for governor of Florida), and he has no experience in or feel for governing. His declaration that he wants to go along with Medicaid expansion is typical of his reflexive liberalism. This plays well as head of the Democratic National Committee (a job he previously held), but it doesn't fit well with Virginia's penchant for fiscal sobriety. It also suggests some ignorance of the very real problems governors of both parties are experiencing with Medicaid.
If that makes McAuliffe "reflexively liberal," than he's joining the ranks of other well-known leftists such as Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ), Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-NV), Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI), and Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R-ND), all of whom have signed their states up for the ACA's Medicaid expansion. This has less to do with ideology than it does with practical concerns for underinsured state residents. Under the expansion the federal government pays 100 percent of the costs for new Medicaid enrollees until 2017. That share drops to 90 percent by 2020, and remains there going forward. As MSNBC's Steve Benen put it, "the way the Affordable Care Act is structured, Medicaid expansion is a great deal for states, and should be a no-brainer for governors who care about lowering health care costs, insuring low-income families, improving state finances, and helping state hospitals."
For Virginia specifically, the costs associated with opting in for the expansion are almost equal to the amount the state would spend on Medicaid anyway were it to opt out. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "if Virginia expands Medicaid, an estimated 372,000 to 504,000 adults will newly enroll into the program by 2019. [...]Virginia will spend between $499 million and $863 million to cover these adults during the first six years of the expansion. This additional spending is just 1.8% to 3.1% more than what Virginia would have spent on Medicaid during that timeframe without the expansion."
Rubin suspects Virginians will find this "reflexive liberalism" fiscally irresponsible, which perhaps is plausible. It's worth noting, however, that Virginians recently had the opportunity to weigh in on Obamacare and the federal government's expanded role in health coverage, and they didn't exactly turn up their noses.
One last thing to note is that while Rubin doesn't think much of McAuliffe, she has lots of good things to say about Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the former governor who has ruled out running for his old office in 2013. "McAuliffe simply doesn't sound or think like a problem-solving moderate Democrat in the mold of former governor and now Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)," Rubin writes. This sunny take on Warner's "problem-solving" cred represents a turnaround for Rubin. In January she wrote:
When former governor of Virginia Mark Warner was elected to the Senate in 2006 [sic], hopes were high that he would be the sort of moderate Democrat who would help reconstitute a centrist, bipartisan faction in the Senate. But his efforts have either been ham-handed (such as the Gang of Six deal that helped sink the grand bargain in 2011 and envisioned huge defense cuts and tax hikes) or non-existent.
So has Warner changed Rubin's mind in the previous month, or is she just feigning to be impressed with the Virginia Democrat in order to make McAuliffe look bad? Safe money's on the latter, given that she's pulled this exact same routine in the past.