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Jim Galloway, Greg Bluestein and Daniel Malloy

Ralph Hudgens: No longer an Obamacare ‘obstructionist’

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Ralph Hudgens, right, the Republican state insurance commissioner, in a 2010 file photo. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Ralph Hudgens, right, the Republican state insurance commissioner, in a 2010 file photo. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Last year, when Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said he would do “everything in our power to be an obstructionist” when it came to Obamacare, he became the national example — as far as Democrats were concerned — of red-state hard-headedness to the law.

But there are signs that Republicans have begun to de-emphasize their attacks on the Affordable Care Act. And Hudgens is an example of that, too.

First, a bit of background from Bloomberg:

Republicans seeking to unseat the U.S. Senate incumbent in North Carolina have cut in half the portion of their top issue ads citing Obamacare, a sign that the party’s favorite attack against Democrats is losing its punch.

The shift — also taking place in competitive states such as Arkansas and Louisiana — shows Republicans are easing off their strategy of criticizing Democrats over the Affordable Care Act now that many Americans are benefiting from the law and the measure is unlikely to be repealed.

Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blogNow, as for Hudgens. The state insurance commissioner told our AJC colleague Nicholas Fouriezos on Wednesday that he just got caught up in the heat of the moment last August:

“I spoke to a Republican group in Rome, Ga., and I said I was going to be an obstructionist, but I can’t be. I mean, I was talking to a Republican group and I was throwing them some red meat. …

“I’m not a fan of it. I don’t think it’s going to work. But there’s nothing I can do about it. “

Perhaps more important, Hudgens said four insurance agencies that are expected to join the Georgia health insurance market place, bringing the number up to nine. The new four: UnitedHealthcare, Cigna, Assurant and Coventry  – did so after waiting to see what would happen in the first year of the ACA’s implementation.

“They know what the prices are, they know what the experience is, so they took a wait and see attitude and now they’ve come in,” said Hudgens, who faces Democrat Liz Johnson in a November general election.

Hudgens said the additions will give consumers more choices, at least, on paper. The new companies could also bring down the cost. “The consumer in Georgia is going to be able to choose between nine companies, but really they’re choosing the same product,” Hudgens said. “The pricing is not going to be the same but the coverage is.”

However, Hudgens said still didn’t see the benefits for most Georgia citizens. “The only reason I see for an individual to go into that federally facilitated exchange and buy a product is if they are eligible for a federal subsidy. There is a real question in that federal district court ruled strict compliance with the language of the ACA says that if it’s a federal exchange (like in Georgia), no subsidies are available.”

A separate court ruling found exactly otherwise — so the point remains in dispute.

***

Three of the four top Democratic and Republican candidates will be on a stage in Macon this afternoon.

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce annual luncheon, with a sold-out audience of 1,100, will feature a debate/forum/comparison shopping opportunity featuring two of the three candidates for U.S. Senate. Libertarian Amanda Swafford was not invited.

You may watch the noon confrontation between Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue by clicking here, courtesy of 13MAZ. If you miss it, C-SPAN plans a delayed broadcast.

Gov. Nathan Deal will have the stage in a preliminary greeting – but Democratic rival Jason Carter will be working the crowd, we were told this morning. It wouldn’t suprise us if former U.S. senator Sam Nunn and former Gov. Sonny Perdue are in the audience, too. This is their home turf.

Update at 11:06 a.m.: The Democratic campaign of Jason Carter sends word that the gubernatorial candidate will not be at this afternoon’s gathering.

***

The New York Times now gives Perdue an 88 percent chance of victory.

A series of polls showing Perdue ahead has the race tipping in the Republican’s favor — resulting, in the paper’s “Leo” forecasting model, in an increase in Republican hopes to take over the Senate in January.

***

The conservative-leaning Washington Times is needling Democrat Jason Carter over his support for gay marriage.

The piece calls on Gov. Nathan Deal to pressure the Democrat to say “unequivocally whether he would be prepared as governor to fully defend Georgia’s state constitutional amendment, enacted by the people, that defines traditional marriage.”

Responding to pressure from gay media organizations this month, Carter’s campaign said he supports “civil marriage equality,” a position roundly criticized by the Times. You can read the full piece here.

***

Republicans are planning an event on Friday for a controversial Texas Republican.bettis

Democratic allies sent us word of the BBQ featuring Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, an outspoken proponent of the “‘birther” movement who once compared homosexuality to bestiality.

The Franklin County GOP is hosting the dinner with Gohmert and Rep. Doug Collins on Friday, and Gov. Nathan Deal is set to appear at a separate event there on Saturday – not with Gohmert.

Elizabeth Bettis, a grassroots organizing specialist who once worked for the Deal campaign but now works for the state party, is listed as a contact. We’re told Deal has no connection to the event, and that Bettis hasn’t worked for the campaign since the primary.

***

Republicans are telling Bloomberg News they feel bullish about expanding their majority in the U.S. House. Except for that pesky last white Democrat in the Deep South who’s still polling strong. From Bloomberg’s Al Hunt:

In the House, Republicans are confident they will add five to 10 seats to their majority, even while losing a handful of seats they now hold. One top strategist notes that in the party’s polling of the two dozen Democratic-held seats they’re targeting, there’s only one where the Democratic candidate tops 50 percent. That’s John Barrow of Georgia, who has held on to a Republican-leaning district for a decade with a conservative voting record and shrewd political campaigning.

And today Barrow dropped a new ad shot at the Port of Savannah, touting how when the Obama administration did not include any port deepening money in its budget “I took ‘em on.” He adds, “and this year, we finally got it done.”

It should be noted that while Congress did authorize the project to begin with state money, the administration has yet to cough up the dough.

The American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons is also weighing in on the race with $56,000 for a three-week pro-Barrow radio ad buy. The group tends to give more to Republicans than Democrats.

***

Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, who serves on the Armed Forces Committee, has a template for how U.S. forces should approach ISIL in Iraq and Syria: Colombia’s FARC revolutionaries, who are now engaged in peace talks with the government.

This is what Scott told constituents in Forsyth on Wednesday, via the Macon Telegraph, after saying we must change course in Iraq:

“In Colombia, we train and we equip and we provide intelligence. The ground game is carried out by their citizens. … You don’t have U.S. soldiers on the ground,” he said. “It has worked, and many of the things we have done in other countries haven’t worked.”

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