Annals of the Senate Moderates: Blanche Lincoln.

blanche_Lincoln.jpgBlanche Lincoln merits the profile treatment in the Post today, and boy, she is having trouble making up her mind about health care. We can talk about where she is on the facts (absent) -- "I would not support a solely government-funded public option," Lincoln says. "We can't afford that" -- as if anyone was suggesting the public option would be soley government funded and not a money-saver. But what's more interesting is that the GOP strategy is plain to see, and she is still happy to walk into the trap:

For GOP leaders, the best strategy for defeating the Senate bill is to sow doubts among vulnerable Democrats, convincing them that [Majority Leader] Reid is leading them off a political cliff.

"There's a great effort under way here to convince their members to ignore public opinion" on health-care reform, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters last week. "I hope it will not be lost on our Democratic friends where the public is, how the public feels about this measure. They're speaking increasingly loudly that they do not think it ought to pass."

Given how easy it is to recognize McConnell's ploy, you'd think more moderates would see through it. Especially, in Lincoln's case, because public opinion remains split in Arkansas:

Recent polls suggest that reform is a difficult sell in Lincoln's home state. The Arkansas Poll, conducted in mid-October by the University of Arkansas's Survey Research Center, found that 39 percent of voters support a public option and 48 percent oppose the idea. And respondents split about evenly on the question of whether reform would improve or hurt their quality of care.

"It's hard to draw firm conclusions," said Arkansas Poll Director Janine Parry. "People are dissatisfied, but they haven't signed on with an alternative." Lincoln, said Parry, appears to be "right with her constituents -- convinced that we need to do something, and not convinced it's this."

I would interpret those poll numbers a bit differently than Parry: The state is split because no one is offering any real leadership on the issue -- all of the Arkansas Democrats, who are mentioned in this profile, have been publicly waffling about health-care reform for months, and dropping lines like Lincoln's factually incorrect comments on the public option. Of course the public is unconvinced that this is a good alternative -- no one is explaining to them what health-care reform means. If Lincoln were to actually take a stand, she could move public opinion. But instead she'll waver and stumble, and her approval will drop, because voters don't generally want senators who waver and stumble. And instead of listening to her putative friends in the Democratic Party, she's going to trust McConnell's analysis right up until the GOP candidate beats her next year.

-- Tim Fernholz

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