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McConnell hints at key vulnerability

After fighting to kill and repeal health care reform, Mitch McConnell's big new boasts about him helping expand access to care.
When policymakers and candidates run campaign ads, there's often a subtext about perceived vulnerabilities. If a politician is known for having a messy personal life, for example, his commercials are likely to emphasize footage of him and his family. If a politician is worried about being seen as a Washington insider, the ads will stress his or her experience away from Capitol Hill.
With this in mind, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell released a new ad overnight that tells us a little something about his re-election concerns.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday debuted a new campaign TV ad, featuring the whispery voice of a throat cancer survivor who credits the five-term Kentucky Republican for supporting sick workers at a uranium enrichment plant. McConnell's campaign is spending "six figures" to air 30-second and 60-second versions of the ad across Kentucky, said campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore. She called it the campaign's largest ad buy so far in what's widely expected to be Kentucky's most expensive campaign ever.

In the 60-second ad featured above, viewers hear from Robert Pierce, who got throat cancer after working at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, and who praises the Republican senator for having "knocked down walls" for him and others. Pointing to McConnell's work on a cancer-screening program, Pierce says in the spot, "I know firsthand, he cares."
In other words, Team McConnell's most significant ad buy of the election cycle so far is about the senator and his efforts to help people in need of ... health care.
What a curious choice.
It's striking, of course, because Mitch McConnell has fought relentlessly against expanding access to affordable health care, not just for families in Kentucky, but for Americans nationwide.
Indeed, two weeks ago, the Minority Leader looked ahead to what would happen if he became Majority Leader. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that if Republicans take control of the Senate after this year's elections, he would move to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law regardless of a likely veto threat. [...] When asked what he would do about "Obamacare" if his party is able to regain control of the Senate for the first time since 2006, McConnell explained that he is currently the "defensive coordinator" for his party. If he got promoted to "offensive coordinator," the senator said, he would move to "pull it out root and branch and start over."

Remember, "root and branch" means McConnell intends to destroy the entirety of the reform law -- including the popular parts, including the provisions that enjoy bipartisan support, including the parts that are already bringing coverage to millions.
What's more, as Greg Sargent reminded us yesterday, when McConnell was asked what he'd tell Kentuckians who are already benefiting from the Affordable Care Act's benefits -- benefits the senator is desperate to take away -- the Minority Leader struggled to come up with any response at all.
It's against this backdrop that McConnell unveiled a big new ad in which voters are supposed to believe the senator is fighting for more public access to affordable care, not less.
The subtext tells us something interesting about McConnell's polling. If the senator and his campaign team seriously believed the far-right message on "Obamacare" is an electoral winner, it's likely we'd see an ad with the opposite message -- vote for McConnell, the commercial would say, because he hates the Affordable Care Act and promises to scrap its benefits if given half a chance. The free market would take care of people, the argument would go, and government would get out of the way.
Except Team McConnell seems to realize this isn't what voters want to hear at all. It's why the senator wants to boast about using government to help struggling folks get access to care, rather than the other way around.