Doris White is a Republican. She’s also 67 and on Medicare and so far she hasn’t made up her mind how she’ll vote in the 6th Congressional District race between incumbent Democrat Ben Chandler and Republican challenger Andy Barr.
“That’s a tough one,” she said of the choice between Barr and Chandler. “No, I haven’t made up my mind yet.” But she said the determining factor in her final decision will be Medicare.
White was at the Lexington Senior Center on Thursday morning for bingo. But before the games began, Chandler showed up to talk to a constituency he sees as key to his re-election: seniors who depend on Social Security and Medicare “to retire with dignity,” as Chandler put it.
With him was 88-year-old former Sen. Wendell Ford, who told the crowd he has been “retired for about 12 years and I’ve been using Medicare and Social Security for 12 years.” He said his wife had undergone heart surgery, the hospital bill was $85,000, and “If we hadn’t had Medicare, we’d have been bankrupt.”
Several seniors in the crowd of 60 or so affirmed their understanding. And that was why Chandler was there and why he brought Ford. Chandler said Barr and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan want to turn Medicare “into a voucher system and privatize Social Security.”
Barr campaign spokesman David Host said that’s not true. He said Barr supports a Medicare plan sponsored by Ryan that would preserve the system for anyone 54 or older and allow others to choose between a government paid “premium support,” which seniors could use to buy private insurance or opt to stay in the current system.
But Ryan earlier proposed an end to guaranteed Medicare payments for those younger than 54, replacing them with a voucher, and at the time Barr supported that plan.
After Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney chose Ryan as his running mate, Ryan moderated his position on Medicare. Host said Thursday Ryan’s new plan is an improvement upon the original and Barr prefers that approach.
Chandler told the seniors in Lexington on Thursday they needn’t doubt his commitment to both programs for the elderly.
“I think you all know me well enough to know I’ll never do anything but keep Medicare strong,” he said. “It’s extremely important that we have a system in place that allows people to retire in dignity.”
Chandler said seniors have “earned and paid into Medicare and it’s not right to cut those benefits.”
Chandler has run television ads saying Barr would vote to end Medicare in its present form and would drive up seniors’ annual medical costs by $6,400. He repeated the charge Thursday.
“I can’t afford it!” called out one older man. “I can’t afford $64 more.”
Chandler and Ford charged Barr and Republicans with playing loose with the facts, not only about programs for the elderly but about coal and Chandler’s position on coal. Barr has run an ad featuring Heath Lovell, a western Kentucky mine executive posing as a miner in a hard hat saying President Barack Obama and Chandler are “devastating” the coal industry.
Chandler’s campaign responded with its own ad, calling Barr’s “a big lie,” and showing photos of Lovell standing next to Romney at fundraisers. Barr has accused Chandler of “slandering” Lovell who has a mining certificate though he works in management and doesn’t live in the 6th District.
“What you’ve been hearing is simply false,” Chandler told the seniors. He was referring both to Barr’s ad on coal and a charge by Barr that Obama and Chandler are “raiding” Medicare by using $716 billion to help pay for preventive services and lengthen Medicare’s projected solvency.
Ford put it more colorfully.
“This fella who’s running against Ben is just a slick talker. He’s like a preacher with a tent, 100 chairs and a guitar,” said Ford.
The Barr campaign has demanded Chandler remove the “big lie” ad, claiming it slanders Lovell, and Wednesday issued a press release with the headline: “Chandler Pulls Plug on Lovell Attack, But Still Won’t Address Job Losses.”
The release says Chandler “effectively pulled the plug on his defamation campaign against Heath Lovell yesterday. Chandler dramatically scaled back the broadcast run of an ad claiming that Lovell ‘isn’t a miner,’ substituting another ‘MediScare’ ad that recycles an old, false, and disproven claim that Andy Barr supports Medicare cuts.”
Chandler’s ad was still running Thursday morning and he said it will continue to run at least for a while. He said the ad has run longer than any other campaign ad he’s run but has been effective.
“At some point you’ve got to pull any ad or people will get sick of it,” Chandler said.
As for Doris White, she still hadn’t made up her mind after Chandler and Ford spoke. But she said her decision will rest on who she thinks “is best for us older people.”
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.
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