When Iowans enter the voting booth in November, which will weigh more heavily on their mind: Younkers or Medicaid?
That seems to be what the race for governor is boiling down to at this point as Governor Kim Reynolds and Fred Hubbell are now months into their TV ad campaigns. Reynolds hopes to turn Hubbell’s business executive experience from the 1980s into a liability. Hubbell wants voters to focus on the broken privatized Medicaid system that many see Reynolds mismanaging.
This week, Hubbell rolled out his hardest-hitting ad to date, one that features a quadriplegic man whose in-home care was cut after Medicaid privatization. He had to sell his home and move to get new services.
“I was forced to move and it was all because of inability to find access to healthcare,” Tucker Cassidy says in a longer video. “I do not believe that privatization is saving us any money at all. Healthcare situations are getting worse and Governor Reynolds is saying it’s getting better? People are dying.”
Hubbell’s campaign is also asking anyone who might have their own personal experience about their struggles with privatized Medicaid to submit their story online. Considering how many heartbreaking stories the Des Moines Register has found on their own since Terry Branstad made the switch to the new system, one can only imagine how many people may share theirs to the Democratic nominee. Hubbell’s operation should have a large collection of additional personal testimonials to knock Reynolds with between now and the election.
Some Democratic strategists wonder about running campaigns on issues like Medicaid. In general, there’s many government programs that may poll decently well or that people say they support, but if they’re not specifically benefitting from the program, they may not base their vote specifically on it.
However, the situation in Iowa seems to be different. For one, Medicaid serves over 600,000 people in Iowa in some form. The drastic change in care and services, the constant confusion from providers and the unpaid bills have been traumatic and life-changing for many people. With 600,000 recipients, most Iowans are likely to know someone with a very compelling personal story of what happened since privatization.
Moreover, the privatization debacle speaks to Reynolds’ management skills and judgement. There has been nonstop headlines about secrecy over the costs and MCOs pulling out of the system or getting raises. Iowans were told that this system would save taxpayers money, but it has constantly cost more than advertised and care is undeniably worse. Any voter can be upset over the plain mismanagement of a major part of state government.
Reynolds, on the other hand, would prefer to spend much of her messaging campaign poking holes in Hubbell’s biography. To be fair, she and Republicans are also highlighting Iowa’s very low unemployment rate and the state’s top national rankings in several different categories. But it’s the attacks on Hubbell that dominate the TV airwaves and press coverage.
She hopes to turn Hubbell into a Mitt Romney-like candidate by highlighting past pay raises Hubbell received and layoffs that Younkers underwent in the 1980s. More importantly, though, keeping the focus on Hubbell’s past keeps voters’ attention off the present, including whatever is the latest scandal or controversy in state government. Most voters don’t know about Hubbell’s entire life history, so it’s something new to them – whether or not they decide that his experience is an overall positive, it distracts from the reasons to vote Reynolds out.
If the gubernatorial campaign comes down to a debate over whether or not Younkers was successful in the 1980s, Reynolds is probably looking good for reelection. If it’s a referendum on Reynolds’ leadership, the budget and overall management of state government, Hubbell has a good shot of moving into Terrace Hill.
A continual barrage of Iowans’ real-life stories of how they’re struggling to survive under privatized Medicaid will be hard for voters to ignore. But campaigns are also about personalities, and Reynolds has had success in positioning herself as a small-town Iowa girl while driving the narrative about Hubbell.
Of course, it’s very telling that Reynolds would prefer voters to concentrate on a distorted view of Hubbell’s business management from 30 years ago rather than the Iowans who are facing life-and-death situations right now from a broken Medicaid system. That’s just how elections go these days.
by Pat Rynard