Saturday, 29 August 2009

The Battle of Arkansas

As the Democrats prepare to round up 50 Senate votes for the public option, things are looking good. Depending on who is doing the nose-counting, Obama already has 45-46 committed votes, and has another 15 or so people he can ask for the last few votes, most of them Democrats.

Two of the pivotal “maybe” votes are Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

Arkansas despises Obama. Not only did he lose the state by 20 points, but a comparison of the 2004 and 2008 elections showed that Arkansas was one of the places in which Obama lost the most ground for the Democrats. Serious redneck country. Louisiana is similarly anti-Obama, and their Senator, Mary Landrieu, just stated that she is a probable “no” on the public option.

Pryor just ran for his seat in 2008, so he is in no immediate danger. When he ran, he had no Republican challenger at all, and beat the Green candidate by something like 60 points. In 2002 he scored an 8-point victory against Republican Tim Hutchinson who had just divorced his wife. He voted for children’s health and stem cell research. He was part of the Gang of 14 that forced a compromise on filibusters; perhaps he was hoping for progress from the Gang of 6. Pryor has a sign on his desk “Arkansas comes first”, but he would have five years to persuade his state that health reform will help them. I think Obama can reel him in.

Lincoln won her Senate races by 13 and 12 points, but she’s up for reelection next year, and currently is in a dead heat with the potential challengers. She doesn’t like class action, so she might be a fan of tort reform; she said in July that she didn’t want to hurry the process. She called the teabaggers un-American and then apologized. However, we do know that she wants universal coverage, she’s committed to reform, she says the current system is unsustainable, and she wants to help small businesses. She said “options should include private plans as well as a quality, affordable public plan or non-profit plan that can accomplish the same goals as those of a public plan.” So she wants either public option or public option lite. I think she will sign a well-written bill, but won’t commit until the last minute.

One thing to remember: since they come from Arkansas, they could easily score points by speaking out against Obamacare, if they opposed it. So it’s likely that they don’t, at least on philosophical grounds. They’re just trying to figure out how to vote for health reform without trashing their careers.

I wonder if Bubba could schmooze them into "yes" votes, figure out a way to help them back home?

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