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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

HCR Challenge: Targeting ‘Undecideds’ — and Their Constituents

One of the best ways to lose your mind is to track the whip counts measuring the line-up of House member votes on health care reform. Right after you read a convincingly optimistic projection that the Democratic package is a done deal, you will find an equally persuasive case that it is doomed. After going round and round with this game for a few days, I have to conclude that nobody in journalism, msm or otherwise, can make a reliable call.
It would not surprise me, however, if Speaker Pelosi or Rep. Clyburn had the real skinny, such as it is. But I wouldn’t read too much into their confident public pronouncements, which could be true or just an effort to crank up a bandwagon psychology. What seems fairly certain, however, is that it is going to be a very close vote. And what’s important to health care reform supporters is that we have work to do — in generating constituent pressure on House members, specifically those who have been called ‘undecided’ — in the broadest sense of the term.
So where do you go? Reid Wilson’s Hotline post, “Advice To Dems: Sell The Bill,” has a useful insight,

A survey conducted across vulnerable Dem districts shows most voters warm to the proposal once they learn more about it, according to a copy of a memo obtained from Capitol Hill and political sources. Included in the poll were 92 districts held by Frontline Dems and Blue Dogs, districts where Dem incumbents would feel the most heat for supporting the legislation.
Dems will target white middle-aged voters, white women under 65 and white married women. Those groups respond most positively when Dems explain what is in the bill, pollsters found.
The poll, conducted by prominent Dem pollster John Anzalone, who conducted some polling for Pres. Obama during the ’08 campaign, shows a plurality of voters currently oppose the health care bill; just 35% of swing voters favor the bill based on what they know about it. But when they hear more about it, 51% of all voters, and 50% of swing voters support the measure…when they hear more about it, 51% of all voters, and 50% of swing voters support the measure.

We knew that the HCR package polls better after respondents actually understand its key provisions. But it does help to know which white voters are most open to it, and pro-reform activists should take note. In terms of messaging, Wilson explains John Anzalone’s observation about his poll:

Dems should focus on provisions of the bill that require coverage even if someone has a pre-existing condition, and on a provision that requires members of Congress to have the same coverage as other Americans, Anzalone writes in the polling memo.
“Not only are they the most popular components of reform among voters overall, but also among key audiences, including seniors. Based on these results, any messaging in support of reform — to any audience — should prominently highlight these components,” Anzalone and pollster Matt Hogan wrote.
And though Dems have taken heat for the process by which health care legislation has progressed this year, expect the party to argue that their efforts to allow a majority vote on the bill were justified. Those who back reform “should avoid process debates,” the pollsters write, but they say Dems can use the argument that no 60-vote requirement is in the Constitution effectively.

It may be late in the game for mass mobilization of constituents. But calls to leaders and activists of the aforementioned constituencies, urging them to more vigorously lobby uncomitted House members, might do some good.
Apropos of my TDS post yesterday on the influence of African American voters in Blue Dog districts, Peter Wallsten and Jean Spencer note in their Wall St. Journal article “Opinions Harden on Health,” that a new WSJ/NBC survey indicates that “majorities of African-Americans and liberal Democrats, as well as a plurality of Latinos, would be less likely to vote for their representative in Congress if he or she voted against the health-care plan.” In this regard it’s encouraging that Dems are reportedly running pro-reform radio ads on Tom Joyner’s nationally syndicated programs in key cities.
Tomorrow will bring more optimistic and pessimistic prognoses for the fate of Democratic HCR. The important challenge for pro-reform Dems is to shrug off positive and negative predictions and do something to generate phone calls, emails and visits to the offices of uncommitted House members.

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