Sanders courts GOP voters with ‘Medicare for All’ plan

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is trying to use “Medicare for All” to win over white working-class voters, many of whom supported President Trump in 2016.

The 2020 candidate went on Fox News, Trump’s turf, on Monday night for a town hall, where audience members cheered when asked if they would support Medicare for All. Sanders shared the clip on social media several times the following day.

“I understand why some had concerns about @BernieSanders going on Fox,” Sanders’s campaign manager Faiz Shakir tweeted after the event. “But if you watched that home run performance for the last hour, you also realized this is the ticket to beating Trump.”

Sanders last week visited battleground states Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that were key to Trump’s 2016 victory. The Fox News town hall was held in Bethlehem, Pa., a city famous for its working-class roots in the steel industry.

But Republicans see Medicare for All as a winning issue for their side as well, and they’re eager to attack Sanders and other White House hopefuls on the proposal.

“Bernie Sanders is not going to win over President Trump’s voters with his promise of higher taxes and more government control over their lives,” Republican National Committee spokesman Steve Guest wrote in an email. “Sanders would rip nearly 200 million Americans off of their plans and make private health insurance illegal even if you liked your current plan. Most voters simply don’t support that.”

On the other side, Diane May, communications director for Our Revolution, a group that grew out of Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, noted that many audience members at the Fox News town hall raised their hands when asked if they would be willing to transition to a government-run plan.

“I definitely think it’s a winning strategy to talk about Medicare for All,” May said. “It’s not abstract like some other issues, like foreign policy or the national debt. … This is a tangible issue that people can see when they get their health care bills.”

Polling indicates the battle could come down to how the issue is framed.

A majority of voters favored a Medicare for All plan when asked about the concept: A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in January found that 56 percent of adults surveyed supported having a single government-run health plan for all.

But that number drops significantly when respondents are asked about tax increases or other downsides to the plan.

Just 37 percent of respondents said they supported Medicare for All when informed that the proposal would require most Americans to pay more in taxes. Likewise, only 37 percent backed the plan when told it would eliminate private insurance.

“It is ingenious branding surrounded by a terrible idea,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, adding that Republicans should make sure voters know that Medicare for All means a huge government price tag, higher taxes and eliminating private insurance, including Medicare Advantage plans that many seniors like.

Studies from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and the Urban Institute have both found that Medicare for All would cost the federal government about $32 trillion over 10 years.

O’Connell said the White House is keen to keep Medicare for All on the front burner.

“They are very happy to talk about Medicare for All,” he said. “They like this. They like the possibility of going against Bernie.”

Much of the GOP messaging is aimed at seniors on Medicare, with Republicans arguing they would be worse off if coverage were expanded to everyone.

The Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 38 percent of respondents 65 and older didn’t think they would be impacted very much by Medicare for All. Twenty-nine percent said they would be better off, and 26 percent said things would get worse.

Some Democrats are skeptical that Sanders can win over white working-class, Midwest voters with a Medicare for All message, especially given the impending onslaught of GOP attacks.

“By the time Trump and his team get done demonizing it, I really don’t think many of those folks are going to be on board with so-called socialized medicine,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley, who was an aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Manley said a smarter strategy for Democrats is to “hammer away at the continued Republican attempts to undermine the current health care system.”

But Sanders backers are sensing momentum from his performance Monday on Fox News, which was viewed by more than 2.55 million people, making it the most-watched town hall of the campaign cycle, according to Nielsen Media Research.

“Medicare for All is a universal issue that appeals to voters of all types,” said Charles Chamberlain, chairman of the progressive group Democracy for America. “I’m not terribly surprised that it got the kind of response that it did in the town hall, although it kind of seemed like it surprised the Fox News hosts.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Harry Reid

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