Republican candidates could benefit from their support of Medicaid

Hank Stephenson and Ben Giles//November 4, 2013

Republican candidates could benefit from their support of Medicaid

Hank Stephenson and Ben Giles//November 4, 2013

Doctor with stethoscopeWhen asked how his vote for Medicaid expansion could threaten his chances at another term in the Arizona Legislature, Senate Majority Leader John McComish points to an Arizona Capitol Times newspaper hanging in a frame behind his desk “The risk of defiance,” the headline reads. “What will GOP senators’ ‘no’ votes on immigration bills cost them?”

What it cost them was “nothing,” McComish said earlier this year. And he’s betting that will be the case in August 2014, when some Republicans who cast votes in support of Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposal to bring Obamacare into Arizona are likely to face challenges from within their own party.

Far-right candidates are expected to challenge some of the 13 Republicans who voted in Brewer’s favor to support Medicaid expansion. Primary challenges were a common promise from GOP hardliners during the 2013 session.

In the Senate, only four of the five lawmakers who broke ranks with the Republican majority remain and are expected to run again: McComish and Sens. Adam Driggs, Phoenix; Steve Pierce, Prescott; and Bob Worsley, Mesa. Former Sen. Rich Crandall left his seat this fall to take a position with the Wyoming Department of Education.

Worsley is considered the most vulnerable of the four. He faces a similarly well-financed primary opponent: Ralph Heap, an orthopedic surgeon from Mesa.

McComish and Driggs, who were elected to leadership roles in the Senate GOP caucus last fall, are considered safe bets to win next August’s primary and retain their seats in the November general election.

No one has registered to run against Pierce, who won his last primary with 100 percent of the vote.

On the House side, nine Republicans voted for Medicaid expansion. While the right wing of the Republican Party was furious over the vote and promised any Republican who voted for Brewer’s top priority for the year would be ousted in 2014, their threats have yet to become anything close to a reality.

All Republican supporters of Medicaid expansion are raising large campaign contributions from hospital and business groups that supported the expansion policy. And several are in competitive or moderate districts where many residents supported the policy.

Most of the Medicaid expansion supporters have yet to field a primary election opponent.

In Legislative District 5, a staunchly conservative district covering the northwest portion of the state, no candidate has filed to run against Republican Rep. Doris Goodale, who supported Medicaid expansion.

But in LD16, another solidly conservative district, Republican Rep. Doug Coleman, a Medicaid expansion supporter, has drawn two primary challengers, including former lawmaker John Fillmore who will be pounding Coleman about the Medicaid vote. Coleman is seen as one of the most vulnerable Republicans who supported Medicaid expansion.

Yet many of the Republicans who crossed party lines to support the policy have drawn no opposition so far, or are opposed only by lower-tier candidates.

Heather Carter, who spearheaded the push for Medicaid expansion in the House, drew an opponent even before the legislative session was finished. But the candidate, Heather Casey, soon pulled out of the race.

Republican Reps. T.J. Shope and Frank Pratt of LD8 are running for re-election together. Their likely largest hurdle will come from the right, as both were Medicaid expansion supporters. The only person to enter the race so far, however, is Jim Montaño, a Republican who lost a primary contest for Pinal County Board of Supervisors in 2012.

Republican Rep. Ethan Orr of Tucson’s LD9 said that when he pressed the button to vote for Medicaid expansion, he felt it would finish his political career.

He said he did it in spite of that because he thought it was the right thing to do for Arizona and his district.

And although some Republicans in his Democratic-leaning district called for Orr’s head, and others have threatened to run against him, no one has filed paperwork so far. No serious candidates have emerged.

Orr said that in a district like his, anyone who runs far to the right will lose the general election, and even those who disagree with him on the Medicaid issue have come to see that. In the end, Orr said, it makes him a stronger candidate in the general election as he is seen as a moderate Republican and an independent thinker.

“When I took the vote, I thought it was the end of my political career, but the right thing to do. But it’s turned out to be a politically good move,” he said.