Throughout the health care debate, the White House has been pushing the idea that not passing a bill would be even worse for the Democrats’ prospects in November than passing something — a theme that resurfaces in the Politico today. Under this theory, Democrats lost Congress in 1994 because they failed to pass Hillarycare.
Yet via Dave Weigel, I see this Public Policy Polling survey showing Rep. Larry Kissell, a freshman swing district Democrat from North Carolina, doing quite well — beating a generic Republican by 14 points and his potential Republican rivals by 14 points to 18 points. Why is he doing so well while other swing districts are trending toward the GOP? The difference, says the Democratic polling firm PPP, is his vote against the health care bill:
Although Kissell has earned a lot of fire from the left for his health care vote most of his constituents are with him. 52% say they are opposed to the bill with 35% in support. Kissell’s no vote appears to have insulated him from some of the ill will toward national Democrats in the district. Despite winning it in 2008 Barack Obama’s approval rating now stands at a negative 47/50 there and Congressional Democrats get a 40/53 approval. Given that context Kissell is doing alright.
The thinking has been that Democrats are now all in on health care legislation, and at this point failing to pass something would be the worst of both worlds — Democratic voters would be upset that they didn’t pass anything and stay home, while Republicans and independents would still blame them for pushing the legislation. And any Democrat who voted for the bill the first time around is now committed to voting for it again the second time around. But that isn’t necessarily true.
In November, 39 Democrats voted against the health care bill, enabling it to pass the House by a narrow 220 to 215 margin. Thus, had Pelosi lost three more votes, it would have been defeated. In order to get over the top, Pelosi needed to support the inclusion of the Stupak language on abortion. Without the language, Rep. Bart Stupak says he has as many as a dozen pro-life Democrats who would not vote for the final bill. So assuming the Senate bill doesn’t get changed to include the Stupak language, for Pelosi to get the bill through the House again she’d not only have to keep all liberals on board with a bill that does not include a public option, but she’ll also have to win over some of those 39 Democrats who voted against the bill the first time around. Yet since that initial vote, the bill has gotten even more unpopular. And as this poll shows, swing district Democrats may in fact be able to help themselves by remaining opposed to the bill.