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Putting a Cork in It

Nate Silver makes the sharp observation that all the public hand-wringing by red state Democrats about how they won't vote for the health care reform bill in its current form may not do them much good with their voters:

Take a look, for instance, at some evidence from Montana, where we have a bit of a controlled experiment. In Montana, a purplish-red state, there are two Democratic senators -- Max Baucus and Jon Tester -- each of whom have ultimately decided to support the Democrats' health care reform plans. But whereas Tester has staked out his position very quietly, Baucus seemed to relish the attention he received as the head of the Senate Finance Committee, virtually taking it upon himself to strike a deal with the Senate's centrists, and frequently appearing in television and print media.

And what's happened? According to the Montana State University - Billings poll, Tester's approval ratings are virtually unchanged from two years earlier (although his disapproval rating has increased slightly). But Baucus has seen his fall precipitously, from 64 percent to 44 percent....

Baucus, indeed, is not alone in this department: virtually everyone who has tried to play a dealmaker role in health care has seen their approval ratings decline, from Chuck Grassley to Olympia Snowe to Harry Reid to President Obama....

I had two further thoughts, one of which cuts, at least potentially, against Silver's thesis, and one of which would tend to support it. While it's true that Tester's low profile on health reform has led to his catching far less flack back home than Baucus so far, it may not make such a big difference when he comes up for reelection in 2012 and has a Republican opponent eager to publicize his support for the measure. On the other hand, nobody enjoys the spectacle of legislative sausage-making--the deal-cutting and grandstanding and interminable debate--so it makes a certain degree of sense that a senator's loudly proclaiming himself one of the sausage-makers-in-chief would tend to make voters think less of him.

You can find more of Silver's thoughts, including his advice for Blanche Lincoln, here.