Is Ben Nelson in Hock to Big Nebraska?
A Research 2000/Daily Kos poll shows that Nebraskans approve of Ben Nelson's approach to health-care reform and oppose the public option. That's not surprising. Nebraskans are conservative. And given that their Democratic senator is painting health-care reform as liberal overreach and the public plan as socialism, it's no surprise that they're skeptical of the whole thing. There's an interesting counterfactual of how Nebraskans would feel if trusted Nebraskan politician Ben Nelson were selling heath-care reform to them as a good thing, but it's basically irrelevant now.
The implication of this poll is that neither Obama nor the Democratic leadership has any real leverage over Nelson. His vote is very much his own, and there's no plausible mechanism by which casting it against health-care reform harms his reelection prospects. The only exception is if he filibusters, in which case a solid quarter of Democrats and 15 percent independents would be less likely to support him. But even that probably wouldn't matter.
Nelson's reelection isn't until 2012, so it's hard to imagine health-care reform affecting his prospects one way or the other. It's always difficult to say why senators are "really" doing something, but if Nelson "really" supported health-care reform, it's a fairly good bet that he could survive voting for it. Plus, being the difference between passage and defeat on a program that could save literally hundreds of thousands of lives is the sort of thing worth taking an electoral risk for. If he doesn't support reform, he can use these polls to justify a vote against. But for all that, it's hard to see the alignment of interests that lead him to filibuster: That really would bring a lot of heat down on his head, potentially anger some of his voters, and presumably persuade the White House and the Senate leadership to spend the next year or two making an example out of him.
Photo credit: The Washington Post.
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