Tom Jensen @ Public Policy Polling offers some takeaways from polling in NJ and VA regarding final passage of a health care bill and the effects it would have on Republican and Democratic voters.
In short, the damage is done with Republicans. The debate so far has them motivated to come out in opposition to Democratic candidates, whether a bill passes in the end or not.
But the "likelihood" of Democrats coming to the polls seems to depend greatly on final passage.
[...] Democrats might stay at home, like they did this year, without one. Democratic voters need to see that getting control of Washington accomplished something for them to be motivated to get out there next year and keep control of Washington.To fire Democrats up, they need to see a return on their "investment" in 2008. They need to see that getting control of the House, Senate, and White House actually led to some sort of productive change in direction.
At this point the political fallout for Democrats from not passing a health care bill is worse than the fallout from passing one.
What does this mean for Jim Matheson? Continued opposition to a health care reform bill gets him no where as a congressman, but may benefit him in a future Senate run. He's going to own and face a fired up Republican base whether he supports a final "Senate-ized" bill or not. But by supporting a final bill, he could rally Democrats to support him in greater numbers. He's going to own health care and the Democratic Party's agenda either way, when it comes to opposition in 2010, if this is any indicator (and I think it is):
Hard-line voters, activists, and those talking primary challenge will be faced with a decision not so different from past cycles: give up the seat -- or at least risk it -- with a primary challenge, or by letting it all rest on Matheson's name and voting record on less polarizing issues alone, or come out (in smaller numbers) just to keep a "D" in our federal delegation. Philosophically, I think primary challenges are always a good thing, but if one it mounted, it should be understood that giving up the seat to a Republican for the sake of Democratic Party ideals could be the end result. In the end, a decision to primary will rest on activists decision to back Barack Obama's agend, or Jim Matheson's agenda. And to be fair, Matheson's agenda is in sync with Obama's on more issues than when it isn't (in number), but diverges on issues that may be too "key" to the party for hard-liners to accept. But is Matheson dependent on hard-line Democrats? So far, he hasn't been.
Instead of thanking Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, for voting with them against his party's health care reform bill, Republicans are lambasting him for also voting against their alternative health bill.
"Jim Matheson proved that he is satisfied with being part of the status quo that includes runaway deficits and rising costs," said a press release by the National Republican Congressional Committee.That is no thanks at all for Matheson being one of 39 moderate Democrats who opposed his own party's bill, along with all House Republicans but one.
Matheson himself faces a decision. Facing the predictable Republican attacks with an energized Democratic base, or "going it alone" with a reputation that has worked for him well so far.
To me, it seems like an needless risk for him to take (again, assuming his challenges will be the same whether he supports the bill or not) on the issue of health care. He's employing a tactic that has worked well for him under Republican administrations. How it will play out when he owns his own party's agenda, regardless of how he himself votes, is another ball game altogether.