Obamacare looms large in Ohio's governor race

Ohio Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor is the only candidate for governor who promises to end the state’s disastrous Obamacare Medicaid expansion, but her Republican primary opponent is attacking her for supporting Obamacare.

Attorney General Mike DeWine enters the race as a heavy favorite, thanks to 30-some years spent in office gave him a huge fundraising advantage. That prompted Secretary of State Jon Husted to drop out of the race and join his ticket, which led to the Ohio Republican Party’s endorsement. In back-to-back mailers on Wednesday and Thursday, DeWine savaged Taylor as an Obamacare supporter who “raised massive taxes.”

Pressured by Taylor’s ruthless criticism of his record as a U.S. senator, DeWine dumped $4.6 million into a mix of positive and negative TV ads in late March & early April. During the pre-primary reporting period, the Party spent more than $600,000 on in-kind support for DeWine… and with a week left before the May 8 primary, his campaign took a turn for the dumber:

“The second largest tax increase in Ohio history” was part of a 2005 bill steered through the Ohio House by none other than Jon Husted; in that bill, Husted, Taylor, and most of the other Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly voted to phase out a number of business taxes and institute a Commercial Activity Tax in their place.

It’s long been a matter of debate whether the bill was a net tax hike or a net tax cut. The CAT is bad policy — and Governor John Kasich, under whom Taylor has served since 2011, has already tried to sharply increase the rate — but so were several of the taxes it replaced.

As silly as it is for DeWine to attack Taylor’s vote for a bill his running mate pushed through the legislature, the most obnoxious aspect of DeWine’s mailers (and the accompanying deluge of TV ads) is their portrayal of Taylor as an Obamacare supporter.

It was well known that Taylor opposed Medicaid expansion before Kasich opted to embrace the opportunity to bring billions of dollars of Obamacare money to the state. When Kasich threw conservatives under the bus and told us we would answer to St. Peter for opposing him, Taylor held her tongue in public; from 2013-16, Taylor made a handful of pro-expansion remarks to cover for her boss.

But last September, Taylor committed to ending the Obamacare expansion if elected governor. She has repeated that commitment frequently, proposing a handful of alternative policies meant to give Ohioans more health insurance options.

DeWine, meanwhile, seemed to think he could ride his cash advantage and early endorsements through the primary without taking any firm position on the expansion. In April, Husted explained that DeWine plans to ask the feds to approve Medicaid waivers to make the Obamacare expansion — which has put 700,000 able-bodied, working-age Ohioans on Medicaid at a cost of more than $17 billion in federal and state spending — “sustainable and affordable.”

There is clearly one candidate in Ohio’s Republican gubernatorial primary who supports the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, and it’s not Mary Taylor.