LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Despite polls that show Kentuckians are opposed to both President Barack Obama's reelection and his controversial health care law, Louisville Congressman John Yarmuth is embracing both in his race for a fourth term in the U.S. House.
"I think people appreciate somebody who stands up for what they believe and also someone who takes the time to discuss the issue with someone who may not have the same opinion," said Yarmuth (D) Ky Third Congressional District.
"(Yarmuth) is - by all reports - a nice guy," said Brooks Wicker, the Republican nominee in the congressional race. "He's just wrong. If you're wrong, then you shouldn't be in the job. He's wrong."
"I think what it will take to win is what I have been doing for the last six years," Yarmuth told WHAS11, "and that is making sure that I am out in the community listening to my constituents."
And Yarmuth is everywhere. His office estimates he's made more than 2000 appearances since his election in 2006.
Yarmuth defeated five-term incumbent Republican Anne Northup that year after successfully linking her to an increasingly unpopular President George W. Bush. Despite President Barack Obama's increasing unpopularity in Kentucky polls, Yarmuth is steadfast.
"I'm one who is unabashedly proud of the fact that this country is markedly better off than it was four years ago," Yarmuth told a forum at the Jewish Community Center on Sunday.
Amid a tepid economic recovery and relatively stagnant employment numbers, Yarmuth was asked about the claim.
"If you look at virtually all the data, we were losing 800,000 jobs a month four years ago," Yarmuth said. "We now have 30 consecutive months of job growth in the country. The stock market is twice as high as it was then."
It's also a claim Wicker profoundly disputes. The Republican says the issues of jobs and the economy are driving this election and favor the GOP message.
"How we reform our economy and our tax code," Wicker explained. "I think the health care issue is an important issue. We need to replace that with something that makes a little bit more sense."
In a contest both candidates see as a debate over the proper role of government, Yarmuth points to federal investments used to create more jobs at Ford and G-E in Louisville as an example of how tax dollars could be used in a second Obama term to stimulate the economy, though Yarmuth is not suggesting another "stimulus" program.
"I think right now the government does have a role to play," Yarmuth said. "We could be doing a lot more in creating infrastructure."
The former LEO magazine publisher advocates the U.S. borrowing more money to make those investments.
"I know we don't want to go more into debt," Yarmuth said. "If you can pay basically zero percent interest as a country - which is what we're doing now - and get a return of at least three percent, four percent, we're going to be much better off," Yarmuth explained. "We're going to create a lot of work."
Wicker, meanwhile, says he would strike a balance.
"If money is being allocated, of course I'm going to try to make sure that our district gets our share of the money," Wicker told WHAS11. "My primary interest is going to be making sure that money is not allocated until we get our debt paid down and we get our fiscal house in order."
It is, Yarmuth says "a very, very critical debate about what the role of government is in American life."
Nowhere is the debate more critical than the government overhaul of the health care system.
"I would like to see it overturned pretty much in its entirety," Wicker said.
The Republican candidate believes local voters also want the law repealed, including one of his clients at his eastern Jefferson County accounting practive, the owner of about 50 franchise restaurants.
"My client tells me that the Affordable Care Act is going to cost his company between $1 million and $2 million per year," Wicker, an accountant, told the JCC forum. "And he tells me that he will have no choice but to thin an already lean team in his restaurants and close up to ten to fifteen of the restaurants because they will no longer be profitable."
A recent Bluegrass Poll commissioned by the Courier-Journal showed that Kentuckians are opposed to the law, but in favor of several of its reforms, including requiring that insurance companies pay for pre-existing conditions, allowing adult children to remain on parents' policies until age 26 and requiring businesses with more than 50 employees to either offer health insurance or pay a fine.
Yarmuth is not only celebrating those protections, he is advocating an even larger role for the federal government in the nation's health care system by transforming it into a "single payer" system.
"I believe that this country needs to do what every industrialized nation around the world has done and that is to eliminate employer based insurance and have the government organize it," Yarmuth said.
NOTE: WHAS11's original report described the single payer system as one where health care would be "administered" by the federal government, yet a spokesman said Yarmuth advocates a single-payer system comparable to Medicare that would be government-funded but privately administered.
In fact, Yarmuth pointed to Germany's health care system as an example.
"It's your policy, the government organizes it," Yarmuth said. "There are 200 private insurance companies (in Germany). They're all non-profit and they compete. And you can have that kind of a system in the United States as well."
"When I talk to business owners - large and small - and you talk to them off camera, off the record, they really want single payer system," Yarmuth told WHAS11. "They'd rather not have to deal with providing insurance for their employees."