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Is Ben Nelson Actually in Line With His Constituents?

A Research 2000/Daily Kos poll reveals that the majority of Nebraskans approve of Senator Ben Nelson's actions on health care-and that more oppose the public option than support it. The results of the poll, which was conducted last week, show that 56% of likely voters in the state approve of Nelson's health care work, while 39% disapprove. Likewise, 47% oppose the public plan, while 39% support it.

The findings shouldn't be too surprising, as Nebraska is still solidly a red state. But it will certainly make it more difficult for progressive activists to make the case that Nelson's conservative views on health care are simply because he's "in the pocket of the insurance industry." That's been the central focus of the left-wing ad campaign against Nelson, conducted by groups like Change Congress and Howard Dean's Democracy for America. Nelson hasn't entirely ignored the attacks-he's gone so far as putting out his own television ad to counter the barrage of liberal criticism. But the poll makes it clear that Nebraskans themselves haven't been sold on the public option, and using that tack to pressure Nelson probably won't be too effective. (As Daily Kos ruefully notes, "If the insurance execs can get him to vote against his constituents' interests by lining his pockets with cash, why then, Daily Kos can buy the poll results it wants, right?")

At the same time, this doesn't make Nelson a lost cause that the left should just write off. His concerns about the public plan aside, Nelson has held back from weighing in on other aspects of the debate-which is to say that he hasn't pulled a Chuck Grassley yet. If he decides to join the Republicans in filibustering the bill, he stands to lose substantial support from Democrats and a few Independents, potentially losing 17% of voters, Daily Kos projects. (24% of Dems and 15% of Independents say they would be less likely to vote for Nelson should he join a filibuster.) Altogether, he has some political leeway to support a Democratic health care plan, and he shouldn't get away with goosing the Democrats more than he has to.