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Is Ben Nelson in Hock to Big Nebraska?

nelson.jpgA 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.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 27, 2009; 4:26 PM ET
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And a whole lot of money from the health insurance companies will flow into his campaign (retirement) coffers. Like Baucus.

Posted by: glewiss | August 27, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Make him spend.

The DFA ad had enough of an impact that he had to cut a response ad.

More ads combined with the threat of a primary challenger.

All of those things cost money.

I know Nebraska air time isn't particularly precious but these things add up.

2 possible upsides-

1- Nelson could decide his opposition isn't worth the trouble, particularly since he could probably still vote against the bill as long as he votes for cloture.

2- He gets more national recognition as the face of opposition within the face of the Democratic party on health care reform.

Posted by: PorkBelly | August 27, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Again, I think these Blue Dog-types will be amenable to incentives in the form of more funds for medically underserved areas (and there are plenty in Nebraska). Unlike the deals with the AMA, Pharma, and hospitals this is one bribe I could live with.

Posted by: bmull | August 27, 2009 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Well I'm taking Nelson off my list of Dems I'm angry with then. He hasn't been making idiotic statements a la Grassley (to my knowledge). And while it's my personal belief that health care is a moral obligation, I understand that that is just my opinion. I have no problem with Senators accurately reflecting the will of their constituents. That's how it's supposed to work.

Posted by: roquelaure_79 | August 27, 2009 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Everyone says the leadership has no leverage. They have a hell of a lot of leverage -- inform him that if he supports a filibuster, he is off the agriculture committee until the next election. That will have a profound effect on his electoral prospects, and it is entirely in the hands of the leadership.

This sort of quid pro quo should be a requirement for all Democratic senators - you can vote how you want on the bill but you WILL vote for cloture or else.

Posted by: pj_camp | August 28, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

did i miss when Sen. nelson said the public option was socialism?

Posted by: eatingpolitics | August 28, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

How shocked.....SHOCKED, I say...that an elected official should represent those who elected him!

What a country!!

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | August 29, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

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