Will Reid's Push for the Public Option Help His Reelection Campaign?

Writing in The Huffington Post this morning, Democratic strategist Peter Daou laments the fact that liberal bloggers aren’t getting any love for their role in pressing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to include the so-called public option in the Senate’s health-care legislation. “Don’t hold your breath waiting to read about the netroots’ pivotal role in forcing the inclusion of a public option,” Daou writes. “It’s just not the way things work in our current media and political world. Instead, at most expect to hear vague allusions to the ‘left.’ Or even more likely, the credit will go to liberal-leaning legislators and will reference ‘public support,’ neglecting the fact it took bloggers to draw attention to the polling that showed a majority favored the public option.”

It’s a fair point, but what about the bigger political picture here? Reid’s office is pretty upfront about the fact that polls on the issue prompted the Dem leader to go for the public option, and his decision no doubt earns him some much-needed credibility with progressive bloggers, who haven't exactly been members of the Harry Reid Fan Club. But how much did Reid’s tough reelection race figure into the picture? As Katie wrote last week, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee launched TV ads pressing Reid to take up the public option. But less noticed was their polling on Reid, which offered some pretty bleak numbers when it comes to how people in Nevada view their senator. Not unlike the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s recent polling, the PCCC found Reid’s approval ratings in the tank: 54 percent of likely Nevada voters polled said they have an unfavorable view of Reid, compared with 35 percent favorable. But it’s the other stats that had to have gotten Reid’s attention: 54 percent of those polled said they believe Reid is “ineffective” in the Senate. Fifty-two percent said they believe Reid is a “weak leader”—compared with 24 percent who think he’s “strong” and 24 percent who answered “not sure.”

Perhaps the only positive news for Reid in the PCCC poll was this: asked if his failure to pass a public option would affect their vote for him, 52 percent of Nevadans polled said it would have “no real effect” on their vote next year. Viewed one way, a majority of Reid’s constituents don’t care specifically about the public option. But Reid’s greater worry here is the optics. No senator wants to be viewed as weak or ineffective by voters back home, especially on the eve of a tough election year. Perhaps that’s why after months of allowing Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus and other Democrats to take the lead on health care, Reid has taken a more prominent role in recent weeks. But this path is tricky: on one hand, if Reid gets the votes he needs and passes the bill through the Senate, he’ll be cheered by the Netroots that Daou writes about—who in turn could help champion his push for reelection next year. But on the other hand, if Reid is unsuccessful, it will be a high-profile failure that could come back to haunt him—thus perpetuating the whole Reid-is-“ineffective”-for-Nevada meme that Republicans are already using against him back home.

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